Merrill Not First VIP to Vanish on Southern Maryland Waterways - Southern Maryland Headline News

Merrill Not First VIP to Vanish on Southern Maryland Waterways

Philip Merrill was not the first VIP to perish in the waters of southern Maryland. At least two other prominent people with ties to the federal government have met their demise in the area's waterways since 1978. Mr. Merrill was reported missing Saturday, June 10, after his sailboat was found near Breezy Point in Calvert County.

The most recent was former CIA director William Colby. Mr. Colby maintained a house at Rock Point on Cobb Island in Charles County. Mr. Colby went missing from his home on April 27, 1996. His body was recovered on May 6, 1996 from the Wicomico River where it was found underwater. The official story is that he fell from his canoe and drowned. A Washington Post article on May 11, 1996, attributes the authorities with the explanation that “William E. Colby died from drowning and exposure to chilly Southern Maryland waters after he fell from his canoe, probably having suffered a stroke or heart attack before the accident.”

Mr. Colby was perhaps best known for his stint as CIA Director. He was nominated to the post by President Nixon on May 10, 1973. He assumed the position officially on Sept 4, 1973 and held it until Jan 30, 1976. He was fired from the position for political reasons in late 1975 by President Ford who replaced him with George H. W. Bush.

Mr. Colby's death has been marred with conspiracy theories. Rather than illuminate them here, we leave that research to the reader. A Google search for the terms “william colby conspiracy” will give you insights to most of the theories.

Another notable death that occurred in our waterways was that of John A. Paisley. Mr. Paisley was an important employee of the CIA who was involved in highly covert activities and had loose ties to the JFK Assassination. According to an investigative report by Tad Szulc titled “The Missing C.I.A. Man” that appeared in the New York Times on Jan 7, 1979, Mr. Paisley set sail from Solomons Island in his sloop, named Brillig, on the night of Sept. 23, 1978. The next day, a state park ranger from Point Lookout notified the coast guard station at St. Inigoes that recreational boaters had reported that a boat under full sail went ashore on Point Lookout. Investigators found no one on-board and there were no prints in the sand.

The boat was reported to have been equipped with sophisticated radio equipment used for secret communications. The NY Times postulated that the equipment would have had to been provided by either the CIA or the NSA. CIA operatives also reportedly removed classified documents from the boat after it had been refloated by the Coast Guard and moved to St. Inigoes.

Several days later on Sunday, Oct 1, 1978, pleasure boaters radioed the Coast Guard that they had spotted a body floating near the mouth of the Patuxent River. The body was recovered and later identified as that of Mr. Paisley by the state's chief medical examiner. The identification was made despite the fact that the body was badly decayed and the CIA and FBI both claimed not to have a set of finger prints on file with which to do a comparison. Prior to being cremated, both hands were removed and sent to the FBI under undisclosed orders. The FBI later declined to identify the reason or disposition of the hands.

The body was said to have a single 9mm bullet wound to the head behind the left ear. The body was also found to have been weighted down by diver's weights. The Maryland State Police originally deemed the death a suicide. However, that ruling was later changed to “undetermined.”

Mrs. Paisley later retained the services of a prominent Washington attorney to help her find out what happened to her husband and to determine if the body that was found was even that of her ex-husband. After his retirement from the CIA, Mr. Paisley had returned to work as a contractor on matters of the assessment of Soviet nuclear capabilities. He was the coordinator of “Team B” in an experiment that pitted CIA analysts against outside experts in attempt to see who could come up with a better National Intelligence Estimate on Soviet capabilities. The CIA denied to the NY Times reporter that any “Team B” documents were found on Mr. Paisley's boat after his disappearance. According to the report, this denial was in conflict with what other reliable sources were saying.

Many theories abound on the what really happened in southern Maryland in late September 1978. Again, we leave that research to the curiosity of the reader. We also welcome any local citizens with personal experiences in any of these matters to share your experience with the community. Please write to us at news @


Vicinity Map for Rock Point, MD

THE MISSING C.I.A. MAN; His 'suicide' was bizarre; the nature of his C.I.A. work, top-secret. Who was John Arthur Paisley, and what actually happened to him?
By Tad Szulc. New York Times (1857-Current file). New York, N.Y.: Jan 7, 1979. pg. SM4, 4 pgs

Download in PDF available for fee.

Excerpt about John Paisley from Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby, by John Prados

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