Real Name: Unrevealed
Case: Lost Families
Date: March 22, 1942
Location: Atlantic Ocean
Details: In 1941, William Betts, a thirty-nine-year-old father of two boys, was the captain of the oil tanker named the S.S. Muskogee. On February 2, 1942, his wife Ellen visited him at the tanker's home port. That day, the S.S. Muskogee left. Ellen returned home and waited to hear from her husband. Sadly, a few weeks later, Ellen received a telegram that said that her husband's ship had been lost; all thirty-four crewmen were believed to have perished. One year later, their older son George was drafted. As the years passed, he remained haunted about the unknown fate of his father.
In 1955, a friend of George's showed him a book about German submarines called the "Sea Wolves". It told of the U123 which had come upon the Muskogee while in their battle zones; the U123 sunk the Muskogee. Ellen Betts confirmed that this was William's ship. George also found photographs that a crew member aboard the U123 had taken the day that the Muskogee was sunk. One of the photographs showed seven men who had survived the sinking. Unfortunately, those men would drown before being rescued.
In 1979, George contacted the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and obtained a microfilm copy of German war records. It included the captain's war logs for the U123. The war logs mentioned the Muskogee and its sinking. Captain Reinhard Hardegen had commanded the U123 and had sunk more than twenty U.S. ships. After the war, he was elected to the West German parliament. George began writing to Hardegen, and the two agreed to meet in Canada.
In October 1987, George and Reinhard met; Reinhard gave George a chilling eyewitness account of the last moments of the S.S. Muskogee. He said that on the morning of March 22, 1942, they saw the Muskogee and torpedoed it. The ship sunk quite quickly, and unfortunately, many of the crewmen were unable to escape. The crewmen that did escape boarded life rafts, and he gave several of the men food, water, and cigarettes. He believed that a U.S. ship would soon arrive to pick the men up; however, the men were never picked up and were lost at sea.
Now that George knew the truth of what happened to the S.S. Muskogee, he was determined to let the families of the other crewmen know what happened to their loved ones. Within a few months, he was able to contact eight families. In September 1988, he drove over two-hundred miles to meet with the family of twenty-six-year-old Clifford Chesley. He was the radioman for the Muskogee. The Chesley family were happy to learn the truth; for years, they did not know what happened, believing that the ship was either lost in the storm or the crew members were taken prisoner.
George hopes to get in contact with the remaining S.S. Muskogee crew member families that he has yet to locate.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the April 26, 1989 episode.
Results: Solved. After the broadcast, at least twelve families of the lost crewmen were able to get in contact with George and learned about his discovery.
- War Photo Inspires Merchant Marine Tribute
- Guide to the George Betts Collection
- Reinhard Hardegen on Wikipedia