Friday, March 21, 2008

Mystery at Harbour Town!

While we are on Hilton Head, a mystery was and still is unfolding. A Hilton Head Island businessman and his wife, who is an attorney, have disappeared, baffling friends, neighbors and the authorities.

John and Elizabeth Calvert were last seen around 5:30 p.m. Monday at a meeting in Harbour Town, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

John Calvert, 47, owns the company that manages the Harbour Town Yacht Basin and Harbour Town Resorts, which has 125 rental properties.

Elizabeth Calvert, 45, is a Savannah business attorney at HunterMaclean, the state's largest law firm outside Atlanta.

Neither reported to work or meetings as scheduled Tuesday.

They were reported missing that evening by Elizabeth's brother, David White of Decatur, Ga., said Lt. Glenn Zanelotti of the Sheriff's Office. Attempts to reach White on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Late Wednesday night, seven detectives were still working the case, chasing down "anyone and everyone" who might have information on the couple's past or current whereabouts, said Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, who led the late-night effort. Officers interviewed family members, friends and business associates. Sea Pines Security combed parking lots, side streets and the forest preserve.

The couple's disappearance, Tanner said, is "raising eyebrows."

"This is suspicious because no one has had any contact with them in the past couple of days, which is in unlike the Calverts because they're active in the community," Tanner said. "Right now the only thing we can say are there are definitely suspicions here."

Asked if the disappearance was part of a criminal investigation, Tanner said authorities haven't ruled that out.

"At this point, I would not be at liberty to say other than we're looking at every angle," Tanner said. "We're collecting all the information we can before we make that determination." The couple, who own a home in an exclusive Atlanta neighborhood, primarily live on their yacht, "The Yellow Jacket," which was still moored to its Harbour Town slip Wednesday night. An unopened Tuesday Island Packet was visible on the deck, still inside its plastic bag. A light was on in the cabin and a television could be heard inside. No one answered the locked door.
Detectives searched the yacht, but found nothing to indicate the couple's location or fate, authorities said.

Elizabeth Calvert has had a pilot's license since March 2006, and frequently flew out of Hilton Head Island Airport. Her love of flying was chronicled in a Forbes magazine advertising supplement.

Her plane, a Cirrus SR20, was still on the tarmac at the island airport Wednesday night, Tanner said.

The Calverts' neighbors in Atlanta haven't seen them since late last week, when Elizabeth Calvert stayed overnight with the couple's dog. They also have a cat, but no children, neighbors said.

The pets are both accounted for. The dog's at an Atlanta kennel and the cat's on the island.
A light was on inside their Atlanta home Wednesday, which is rare when they're away, said Goodloe H. Yancey III, a neighbor.

The couple owns at least three vehicles, a Porsche, a white truck and a silver 2006 Mercedes E320, with Georgia tag GT821B. Their Mercedes was found at the Marriott Hotel parking lot at Palmetto Dunes Plantation.

Their cell phones and Blackberries have not been turned on since Monday evening so authorities can't use cell phone towers to locate them.

"John and Liz Calvert are not the type of people to walk away from their responsibilities," said harbormaster Nancy Cappelmann, who has known the couple for years . "They are very committed to the businesses here and are always available by cell phone.

"Liz was supposed to be at work in Savannah on Tuesday morning, but didn't call in," Cappelmann said.


A person of interest, Dennis Gerwing, was interviewed. Gerwing was the chief financial officer for a company the Calverts had hired to run administration, accounting and human resources for their businesses. In December, the Calverts decided the no longer need the company's help and Gerwing was leading the transition out.

Gerwing, 54, died in an apparent suicide last Tuesday, about 10 hours before authorities publicly deemed him a "person of interest" who wasn't cooperating.

In two notes left near his body, Gerwing acknowledged stealing money from the Calverts. However, he did not write whether he played any role in the Calverts' disappearance.

Gerwing's inner thigh was slashed and he had several knife puncture wounds in his chest when he was found in a Sea Pines villa he had rented since his home, office and cars were searched.
Authorities have admitted the circumstances of the apparent suicide are odd.

Following is a timeline of the events.

March 3: John and Elizabeth Calvert are last seen near their yacht at Harbour Town. Their 2006 Mercedes Benz E320 is also missing.

March 4: David White of Decatur, Ga., Elizabeth Calvert’s only sibling, files a missing persons’ report.

March 5: Police search the Calverts’ yacht, the “Yellow Jacket,” moored in its Harbour Town slip.

March 6: Several new agencies join the hunt, including the FBI, the S.C. Law Enforcement Division and the sheriff’s office in DeKalb County, Ga., where the Calverts owned a home.

March 7: The Calverts’ 2006 Mercedes Benz E320 is found in the Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa parking lot at about 3 a.m. That is in Palmetto Dunes where Sarah and Jeff rented the beach house.
We arrived on Hilton Head March 8th.

March 8: A dive team searches the waters of Harbour Town Yacht Basin, but finds nothing. Police obtain warrants and search Dennis Gerwing’s offices at 71 Lighthouse Road, his home at 8 Bent Tree Lane in Hilton Head Plantation, and his two vehicles.

March 10: SLED brings in more agents to help in the investigation.

March 11: Beaufort County law enforcement officers, the coroner and the solicitor converge on the Swallowtail of Sea Pines condo complex. Dennis Gerwing’s body is removed from one of the buildings. Suicide notes left by Dennis Gerwing acknowledge that he stole money from John and Elizabeth Calvert, the missing Hilton Head Island couple, according to law enforcement sources.
But Gerwing's notes are silent on whether he played any role in the disappearance of the couple, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke to The (Columbia) State newspaper on the condition of anonymity. They were last seen leaving a business meeting with Gerwing the evening of March 3.

March 17: Law enforcement officials will return to a Georgia landfill Monday morning to resume a search for John and Elizabeth Calvert that began Saturday, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

March 19: The death of Dennis Gerwing is raising eyebrows among friends — and some forensic experts — who say the man they knew and the circumstances of his death might not add up to a suicide.

Gerwing, named a “person of interest” in the disappearance of John and Elizabeth Calvert earlier this month, died last week in what local authorities call an apparent suicide. They said he slashed his inner thigh with a knife, presumably cutting the femoral artery, and bled to death behind the locked bathroom door of a villa. His body also had stab wounds to the chest, a law enforcement source told The State newspaper last week.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said Friday authorities don’t suspect anything other than suicide. But he refused Monday to say whether a knife was found in the locked room with Gerwing. The incident report lists the weapon used as “unknown.”

Two notes were found in the villa. Law enforcement sources told The State that Gerwing, a former business associate of the Calverts, admitted in the notes to stealing money from the couple, but did not say he had a hand in their disappearance.

Experts say slicing the thigh is an extremely rare form of suicide. For men, gunshot wounds are the most common method.

Dr. Werner Spitz, a Michigan forensic pathologist who has testified in several high-profile cases and served on a congressional panel that reviewed the autopsy of President John F. Kennedy, said he has never seen a case of suicide in that manner in more than 50 years of experience. That kind of wound is more often associated with homicide or accident victims, he said.
It’s also unusual for a person to stab himself in the chest, according to another national expert, Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, a forensic pathologist and clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
Wecht said it’s possible Gerwing cut his thigh and then stabbed his chest when the leg wound took too long to have an effect or was too painful.

But the human heart is quite protected behind the rib cage, sternum and cartilage, he said.
“A lot of people don’t know exactly where their heart is,” Wecht said. “They think it’s to the left side of the chest, but it’s actually a little more to the center.”

Wecht said it is puzzling that Gerwing apparently admitted to stealing money, but was silent about the disappearances. Typically, experts say, people who kill themselves clear their conscience when they offer their last words.

And Gerwing’s longtime friends also say the pieces of this puzzle don’t fit.

“A lot of people here ... have a lot of questions that don’t add up, if you know Dennis like I did,” said Dick Sonberg, Gerwing’s neighbor off and on for 15 years.

Even in tough times, Gerwing never seemed depressed, Sonberg said. He enjoyed wine but wasn’t a hard drinker or into substance abuse, Sonberg said.

Some friends said they doubt Gerwing was physically strong enough to kill himself. At about 5-foot-8 and a little overweight, he wasn’t very athletic, Sonberg said.
“He was not a tortured soul, at least outwardly,” said Porter Thompson, spokesman for The Club Group. Gerwing was a shareholder and chief financial officer for the property management company.

“Most of the people that I’ve talked to about this ... are baffled by the method of Dennis’ death,” Thompson said. “I think most of us that are contemplating our own death would chose something less painful. I know Dennis well enough to say that he might not even know where his femoral artery is. He’s an accountant.”

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