Fifteen years ago Johnny Oceans disappeared off the coast of East Africa. His body was never recovered. Accident or conspiracy? Why did it take so long for the courts to declare him dead? A champion sport fisherman, keen diver, smuggler, and casino impresario, he had many friends and a few enemies. Investigating Ocean’s hidden story, Hew van Grit spent a year on two continents following the enigmatic trail of a man who led more than a double life.

obituaryIn 1998, while scuba diving in Kenya, casino manager Johnny Oceans vanished off the face of the Earth. In a manhunt costing more than two million dollars, deploying four helicopters, six planes, and a fleet of boats, and lasting six months, the FBI and Kenyan coast guard searched the entire coastal area of Kenya.

In the end, Oceans status – alive or dead – was never confirmed. His location and fate remain unknown.

Seven years later, in September 2005, the Devini family took legal action to have Oceans declared dead, presenting petitions, good-faith evidence and affidavits that he could not be located. The judicial proceedings at Miami-Dade County were conducted sub rosa. In the end the court refused to issue a death certificate.

Only last year did they finally declare ‘death in absentia’ for Mr Oceans. Fifteen years seems an awful long time to wait. In Miami people disappear all the time. At sea it’s even more common. Usually, after seven years, the law assumes a missing person has died. Why then did the courts refuse to assent the death Johnny Oceans?

Transcripts reveal nothing. All sensitive material has been censored with a large black felt tip pen. Still, Miami-Dade must have seen convincing evidence that Oceans was still alive.