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Old 10-13-2007, 03:36 AM
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Default Strange story On the Missing Hijacked charter boat crew

Miami -
The fate of four missing crew members of a Miami Beach charter boat was in question Monday night after authorities found their two customers -- one tentatively identified as a fugitive accused of robbing an Arkansas Wal-Mart -- floating in the Florida Straits, near Cuba.
A frantic ocean search continues from just north of Cuba to the Bahamas and South Florida for the missing crew -- three men and a woman, all from Miami Beach.
The Joe Cool, a 47-foot sport fishing yacht, was found Sunday afternoon, a ghost ship floating near the Cay Sal Bank. No one was on board.
The two charter clients have been identified as Kirby Logan Archer, 35, of Strawberry, Ark. -- on the lam and accused of stealing $92,600 from the Wal-Mart where he worked as an assistant manager -- and Guillermo Zarabozo, 19, of Hialeah.
The two were found Monday morning floating on a life raft 12 miles north of the drifting boat. The Coast Guard is not sure why they abandoned the vessel, or whether the boat broke down or simply ran out of fuel.
''Those two jerks probably didn't know how to run the boat so they had to get off it,'' said Jeff Branam, whose family operates the charter boat.
Archer and Zarabozo were being questioned Monday by the FBI onboard a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. The FBI in Miami was tight-lippged about the case.
''We handle crimes on the high seas and there might be the potential for that here, but that's all we can say,'' FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said Monday.
The main question in this high-seas mystery: What happened to the crew of the Joe Cool -- Capt. Jake Branam, 27; his wife Kelley Branam; his half-brother, Scott Campbell, 30; and Samuel Kairy, 27, all of Miami Beach.
Jeff Branam, Jake Branam's uncle, fears they may have been forced overboard or worse.
''I think that Kirby Archer pirated our boat,'' Branam said. ``Now, the best-case scenario is if they gave my nephew and the others onboard life jackets and told them to swim for it.''
Orihuela would not elaborate on what happened to the crew, all of whom were last seen as they sailed out Saturday from the Miami Beach Marina behind Monty's headed for Bimini with their customers.
The Joe Cool's GPS navigational system reveals it was headed steadily for Bimini, then made a sudden, erratic turn south toward Cuba.
When the vessel failed to return to Miami Beach Sunday, Jeff Branam called the Coast Guard. They found the usually ship-shape vessel abandoned 40 miles north of Cuba. They also found signs of distress.
The boat ''was in total disarray,'' said Coast Guard Petty Officer James Judge. ``Things were thrown around everywhere.''
Its location was also troubling.
''It's a mystery because the Gulf Stream flows north and this is nowhere near where they intended to go,'' Judge said.
Arkansas authorities have been seeking Archer since January.
Police say that on Friday, Jan. 26, Archer, a trusted assistant manager at the Wal-Mart store in Batesville, Ark., used a cart to collect the money trays from cash registers and took it to a back room.
He then asked permission to leave work early. A surveillance video showed that Archer purchased a microwave oven that night as he walked out of the store -- the last time he was spotted in Batesville.
Police said the money likely was stashed inside the microwave.
Capt. Bill Lindsey of the Independence County Sheriff's Department in Arkansas said it wasn't a total surprise that Archer would be in South Florida, near Cuba.
''He served in the military -- in Guantanamo Naval Base -- and we thought at one point, he might be heading that way,'' Lindsey said.
Archer's name had been entered in a national crime computer, he said, and ``if he had taken a plane, he would have set off alarms.''
Archer's whereabouts were discovered by chance.
In Batesville on Monday, someone on the Internet read a news story about the Joe Cool having gone missing and saw the name of the two men rescued, Archer and Zarabozo.
''Someone saw his name on a story and called us,'' Lindsey said. ``We contacted the Coast Guard there, and they hooked us up with the FBI.''
Lindsey is sure the FBI has his wanted fugitive.
''We are not 100 percent it's him, but we're pretty sure,'' Lindsey said. ``We didn't have his fingerprints so we have to wait for the military to run him. But he apparently gave his real name. I don't know why.''
It's not clear how Archer and Zarabozo became acquainted. Attempts Monday to reach his relatives in South Florida were unsuccessful.
Archer and Zarabozo did not set off any alarms Saturday when they showed up at the marina next to MacArthur Causeway looking for a boat to charter to Bimini, said Jeff Branam.
''They said they had a couple of girls waiting for them in Bimini and wanted to get there; they just wanted to be dropped off,'' he said. ``They paid me $4,000.''
Saturday night, Branam said he did not hear from his nephew, his wife or any of the other crewmembers.
''I thought he got busy with the boat or something. But then he was supposed to be back by noon to get ready for the Monday charter.'' He called the Coast Guard on Sunday.
Jake and Kelly Branam, who live on Star Island, have two young children, a 3-year-old daughter and a 4-month-old son relatives are caring for.
Branam relatives said that at daybreak Tuesday they would hire private helicopters to join in the official search. ''We just can't sit here and do nothing,'' Jeff Branam said late Monday.
It's not the first time this year the Joe Cool had been in the news. In May, its crew helped rescue an Aventura family after the family's sailboat began to sink.
Six boaters aboard the $1.2 million sailboat noticed the vessel taking on a lot of water about 10 miles off Government Cut. As Miami-Dade and Coast Guard rescuers rushed to the location, the Joe Cool crew also picked up the mayday call and raced to help.
The sailboat sank, but the family -- including an infant and a 9-year-old -- was saved, in part thanks to the efforts of the Joe Cool crew.
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Old 10-13-2007, 03:37 AM
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Default Re: Strange story On the Missing Hijacked charter boat crew

And the plot thickens.

Ex-wife brings new intrigue in ghost boat case
Two men plucked from a life raft in the Florida Straits after the boat they chartered was abandoned met more than 10 years ago when one was a boy in Cuba and the other was a military police investigator at Guantánamo Bay, according to the former soldier's ex-wife.
The account from Michelle Rowe, whose ex-husband, Kirby Logan Archer, was found at sea in a life raft Monday, adds a new layer of intrigue to a deepening mystery.
The four-member crew of the charter boat Joe Cool is still missing, two days after the U.S. Coast Guard found the charter vessel in the Florida Straits, about 40 miles north of Cuba.
Relatives of the crew members fear they were forced to abandon the vessel.
Archer, who was found in the raft with Guillermo Zarabozo, 19, of Hialeah, is wanted in connection with the January theft of $92,600 from an Arkansas Wal-Mart where he worked as an assistant manager.
No charges have been filed against anyone and the search is on-going.
Rowe, who divorced Archer in 2005, said she last saw her ex-husband in January. Arkansas court records show that their divorce was bitter; she alleged that they moved to Arkansas in December 2003 because Archer was AWOL from the Army, something he later confirmed in his testimony. The AWOL matter was resolved and he was discharged from the military.
She also testified that, after they separated in 2003, she entered into a lesbian relationship and that Archer had begun a homosexual relationship with a man named Greg, and that Archer ``was also with five or six other gay men during that time.''
The testimony is summarized in a Arkansas court of appeal order of Jan. 31, 2006, that kept the couple's two children in the custody of Archer.
Archer testified that he was not gay -- but Rowe testified that he was and that one of his relationships was with a boy who was still in high school.
Rowe told The Miami Herald that her ex-husband met Zarabozo, then a boy, at Guantánamo Naval Base where Archer was stationed as a military police investigator with the U.S. Army in the mid 1990s.
At the time, Zarabozo's family was among thousands of Cubans who had tried to leave the island on rafts. They had apparently been intercepted at sea and taken to the base, where Archer took an interest in the rafter boy, then 6 or 7 years old.
''He told me about the boy. He said he took him under his wing. He stayed in touch with him all this time,'' Rowe said.
She said Zarabozo ''even came to visit him in Arkansas.'' He stayed with Archer, she said.
After he became a fugitive, ''I think he picked up that boy and they decided to head to Cuba to start a new life,'' Rowe said.
Coast Guard officials say that the GPS navigational device onboard the Joe Cool indicated that it was headed from Miami Beach to Bimini, then made a sudden turn south toward Cuba about 35 miles out.
Rowe said she called authorities in Miami to alert them about her ex after reading on that he had been found at sea.
''I'm not a scorned lover, but he's a piece of s..t,'' she said. ``And people should know.''
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Old 10-13-2007, 03:42 AM
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Default Re: Strange story On the Missing Hijacked charter boat crew


Making murder case in ghost boat mystery not easy

Federal prosecutors bought time to build a first-degree murder indictment against two men implicated in the disappearance of four Miami Beach boat crew members.


Guillermo Zarabozo, 20, of Hialeah, left in a 2005 picture, and Kirby Archer, 35, of Arkansas, right, are charged with killing the four crew members of a Miami Beach charter boat.Federal prosecutors have two weeks to make their first-degree murder case against two men accused of chartering a Miami Beach boat and killing its four crew members at sea.
Prosecutors bought precious time Thursday in federal court to build upon a largely circumstantial case against Guillermo Zarabozo, 20, of Hialeah, and Kirby Archer, 35, of Arkansas. They were charged in a preliminary murder complaint on Wednesday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted Bandstra set the men's arraignment for Oct. 25, giving prosecutors two weeks to seek a grand jury indictment.
Archer's attorney, Allan Kaiser, a former federal prosecutor, said the government's complaint was ``very thin on evidence.''
''It's all up to them, and time is running out,'' he said.
Prosecutors have acknowledged they don't have the makings of a typical murder case -- no bodies, murder weapons, confessions or witnesses.
But they claim to have ''inconsistent statements'' from the suspects and ''strong'' circumstantial evidence.
The men gave starkly different accounts of ''pirate hijackers'' overtaking the 47-foot sportfishing boat on Sept. 22, executing the four crew members and then commandeering the Joe Cool toward Cuba.
And FBI agents found a February receipt in Zarabozo's apartment for a Glock 9mm magazine and four boxes of 9mm bullets -- including two boxes of ammunition with Federal Cartridge, Hydra-Shok 9mm bullets. The receipt showed he purchased them from Lou's Gun Shop and Police Supply in Hialeah.
Agents also found four spent shell casings of the same size and brand -- each bearing a Federal Cartridge and Luger 9mm stamp -- on the vessel.
Prosecutors displayed an example of the bullet, standard law enforcement ammunition, at a news conference Wednesday.
U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta zeroed in on that connection but admitted the case was daunting without a confession.
''Our jobs, unfortunately, are not that simple,'' Acosta said.
If a federal grand jury returns a first-degree murder indictment, prosecutors could seek death penalties. But if the case proves to be largely circumstantial, the Justice Department is not likely to approve that strategy.
Both men -- held at the federal detention center in downtown Miami -- were to be arraigned on lesser charges Thursday. But prosecutors dropped them with the filing of the murder complaint.
The pair paid $4,000 to charter the boat for a one-way trip to Bimini and were rescued two days later in the abandoned vessel's life raft.
The Coast Guard recovered the Joe Cool, which was inspected by the FBI and returned to its owner last week.
But the Coast Guard repossessed the boat this week after Zarabozo's attorney, Faith Mesnekoff, sought to preserve it as evidence for inspections by her forensic experts.
Missing and presumed dead are captain Jake Branam, 27; his wife, Kelley Branam, 30; Branam's half-brother, Scott Gamble, 35; and first mate Samuel Kairy, 27, all of Miami Beach. The Branams leave behind a 2-year-old daughter and a 4-month-old son.
Miami Herald staff writer Luisa Yanez contributed to this report.
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