Unsolved Mysteries: ‘Body in the Bay’

Pat Mullins.

The seventh episode of the third volume of Unsolved Mysteries, “Body in the Bay,” is genuinely intriguing. Even though it came with a warning before the episode that it might be describing a suicide, I didn’t think this one was as obviously a suicide as the Tiffany Valiante case, the first episode of the third volume. That said, I still think the case of Pat Mullins, who apparently died somewhere near Tampa Bay, Florida on January 27th, 2013, was a suicide.

On that day, a Sunday, Pat’s wife, Jill, left to visit family in Sarasota, Florida. She didn’t know what Pat’s plans were for that day (to be honest, I’m surprised she didn’t ask, but fair enough), but according to neighbors, he took his boat, a Stumpnocker (a brand of boats in Florida), out. The boat was apparently only meant for the nearby shallow Braden River. When Jill returned at 6:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., Pat was nowhere to be found. She couldn’t get ahold of him either because he didn’t like to carry his cellphone with him. She found this unusual because it was a Sunday and they viewed Sundays as worknights. Pat’s truck was at home, but not the Stumpnocker.

Jill then called her youngest son, Miles, who was at university in Tampa, and he told her not to worry about it. He’d spoken to his uncle who’d spoken to the dad who’d said he was taking the boat out for a spin. But later that night when Pat still hadn’t returned, Miles and his uncles mounted a search by boat. Jill also involved the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, who also mounted a search and rescue operation with their marine division. By the next morning, January 28th, 2013, the Coast Guard was also involved in the search.

Later that day on January 28th, 2013, they found the Stumpnocker northwest of Egmont Key in a commercial shipping channel. They didn’t say how many miles it was from Pat’s home, but it looked quite a ways on the map they showed. Pat wasn’t on the boat, nor was the boat’s anchor. The boat’s engine was in neutral and out of gas. Police said there was no indication of a crime scene, or of some sort of injury to Pat otherwise. The only other matter of note was that Miles noticed red paint markings on the side of the boat that weren’t previously there, apparently.

Everyone kept searching for the body. On February 5th, 2013, Geoffrey Page, a fishing boat captain, found the body in shallow water way south of Tampa Bay and where the boat was found. Page, referring to the body, said “everything was clean as a whistle.” A rope was around him in an intricate fashion attached to the missing boat anchor. He was in about four to six feet of water.

The Manatee County Coroner said Pat had severe head trauma, stemming from a shotgun injury with buckshot, where the entry wound went from the right to the left. His arms were not bound by the rope. That was what led the coroner to say while the cause of death was undetermined, meaning he didn’t have enough evidence to rule cause of death a homicide or a suicide, he thought it likely to be a suicide. Jill said Pat never owned guns and the police never found a record of a purchase for a shotgun. A shotgun was also never retrieved from the boat or near Pat’s body or otherwise found in the water.

That’s what we know. Obviously, the family didn’t like the idea that it was a suicide. In fact, Pat’s brother pointed out that Pat didn’t leave a note. It’s worth remembering that not everyone who kills themselves leaves behind a note explaining why, though.

In 2021, the family brought in Dr. Lori Baker, a forensic expert, to examine the suicide theory of Pat’s death. One of the elements she found noteworthy — and which the coroner agreed was unusual — was that there was no evidence of a contact wound. Typically with a shotgun suicide, you would see evidence of a contact wound, they explained. So, maybe he held the shotgun further out. Or maybe being in the water for a number of days erased evidence of the contact wound. I’m not sure. Baker then used a man to demonstrate if it was physically possible to tie oneself up in a rope, sit on the boat, shoot themselves from right to left with a shotgun not at skin close and for the shotgun to end up in the water. The man exclaimed at one point that it was an unnatural position to set up. Sure. But that doesn’t mean impossible! The second noteworthy aspect to Baker, though, is that if it was a shotgun suicide, you’d expect to see more blood splatter in the boat. There was no evidence of any blood in the boat. Baker said absence of trace evidence makes it more likely to her that it isn’t a suicide. My follow-up question was, if it was a homicide, wouldn’t the lack of trace evidence be suspect, too? However, the former editor of the local paper answered my question: His theory is that Pat was killed somewhere else and then dumped. Furthermore, that Pat, while on the boat, encountered other people on another boat and saw something he wasn’t supposed to see. So, he was killed for it.

I don’t put much stock in that theory. We tend to believe that there are always nefarious things going on around us and us good people will get killed for it if we stumble upon it. How often does that actually happen, though?

I, for one, want to hear more from the Coast Guard! They’re the experts in how a boat drifts. If Pat was killed or killed himself where his body was found, do they think it reasonable for the boat to then drift way out to the commercial shipping channel where it was found? Some of the family speculated that the killer took the boat out there to discard it (and got into another boat, I guess), but isn’t just as likely for the boat to have drifted? That is why I want to hear more from the experts.

The episode then takes a pivot toward actually fingering someone named Damon as a possible suspect in the death of Pat Mullins, which feels especially unfair because a.) he was never charged with anything and b.) he’s dead. Damon was a family friend of Pat’s brother. Miles said he wasn’t an especially close friend of his dad’s, but after his dad’s death, he seemed to have a mental breakdown and would have a mental breakdown like clockwork every January. He also began (or continued, it’s not clear) using meth. On Memorial Day 2013, the family also apparently noticed Damon fastening a rope around himself similar to how the rope was found around Pat. Finally, Damon’s boat has a red paint stripe and the family wanted to test the red paint to compare it to the red paint found on Pat’s boat. Damon wouldn’t allow it, but after he died of a meth overdose in 2017, his daughter allowed it.

I have two thoughts about the red paint analysis. First, earlier in the episode, we’re told the police are pressuring the family about the suicide theory of Pat’s death, and now they’re apparently willing to pursue a potential lead on a potential suspect? Secondly, it means nothing! It’s red paint. Even if it matches, and apparently, it did, what does that prove? Red paint is common, right? It isn’t like a fingerprint.

Now that I’ve laid out everything from the episode and you already know I still think Pat’s death is a suicide, here is my specific theory. If the family is correct that Damon seemed particularly, unusually reactive to Pat’s death and there seems to be a throughline drawn between that and his meth addiction and overdose, then I need to make Pat’s death and Damon’s death make sense. What is the connection between the two resulting in both of their deaths? The family obviously thinks murder, like perhaps things got out of hand when Pat witnessed a drug deal between Damon and unknown persons, resulting in his death.

My theory is less elaborate, if perhaps controversial. They were lovers who met through Pat’s brother’s connection. But Pat couldn’t live with it. After all, he was approaching his 30-year anniversary with his wife and he was a noted school librarian. So, he killed himself one Sunday afternoon. Distraught at his death, Damon fell into drugs and eventually overdosed.

Or, if the family is misreading Damon’s reaction to Pat’s death as something nefarious, then the theory is even less complicated and more simple: Pat killed himself for reasons we will never know and he would not be the first person to kill himself and unfortunately leave the family wondering why (and in this case, how he did it) and thinking they would have seen signs of it beforehand.

What did you think of this episode?

3 thoughts

  1. I agree that it was probably a suicide. The other angles in the story just don’t add up to a murder. The friend who was given as a possible suspect due to his “erratic behavior” was a crystal meth addict. That could account for his behavior. The red paint I also see as a non issue. I hope the family finds some kind of peace. Very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Focus on what we know – the wife was the last person to see him alive – doesn’t seem emotional when interviewed – calls son before coast guard and authorities. Guarantee there’s life insurance involved – case closed

    Like

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