Tragedy in the South Pacific

Professional athletes are idolized by many and even worshiped by some. Their talents and riches all too often make fans believe they are immune to the troubles faced by the rest of us. But athletes are human beings, and they are susceptible to dangers such as crime as much as anyone.

Bison Dele was an eight-year veteran of the National Basketball Association (NBA.) His talent had made him a multimillionaire and, eager to pursue new adventures, he quit the game at age 30.

In his eight-year NBA career, Bison had done much traveling, not just of the basketball violation. Most of what he saw, however, were hotel rooms and basketball arenas. He now wanted to travel worldwide and enjoy the natural sights of our beautiful world.

Bison walked away from basketball in his athletic prime. Shortly after setting sail from Tahiti in 2002, he was, most assuredly, murdered in the prime of his life.

Bison Dele was born Brian Williams. His father, Geno Williams, was, for a time, a singer with The Platters, one of the first popular early rock’n’roll bands.

Whereas his dad was a singing star, Brian became a sports star. At California’s Santa Monica High School, he excelled at track and field before a growth spurt led him to the sport, which would ultimately make him millions of dollars. By his senior year, he had grown to 6’10 and was the star of the basketball team. College recruiters were setting a course to Santa Monica.

Brian chose to play college basketball for the University of Maryland, where he had a great freshman season, averaging 12.5 points and six rebounds a game. However, he longed to be closer to home and transferred to the University of Arizona. After being required to sit out the 1988-89 season, Brian played two years for the Wildcats and posted similar averages of 12.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

As the college recruiters had stampeded to Santa Monica, NBA scouts were now trekking to Tucson. Brian Williams had the talent to play basketball at the highest level.

Brian was the 10th pick in the first round of the 1991 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. He only played sparingly, however, in two seasons with the Magic.

Brian was traded to the Denver Nuggets for the 1993-94 season. His play improved in his two seasons with the Nuggets, as he averaged eight points and five rebounds per game.

The following year, when he came home to play for the Los Angeles Clippers, his game improved even more, as he averaged nearly 16 points and seven rebounds per game.

Brian sat out most of the 1997-98 season due to a contract dispute. With only nine games remaining in the regular season, the reigning champion Chicago Bulls signed him for the playoff run. Brian proved a valuable reserve in the playoffs, providing solid play coming off the bench.

Brian earned a championship ring as the Bulls won their second of three consecutive NBA titles.

The following season was Brian’s best NBA campaign. As the starting center on the Detroit Pistons, he achieved career highs in averaging 16 points and nearly nine rebounds per game.

After his career season, Brian Williams changed his name to Bison Dele to honor his Native American and African ancestry. He played one more injury-plagued-season with the Pistons, averaging a respectable 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

To almost everyone’s surprise, the 30-year-old Bison, in the prime of his career, retired from the NBA before the start of the 1999–2000 season. In so doing, he walked away from a remaining five-year contract that would have paid him $36 million.

Life after basketball was not dull. Bison traveled to Lebanon, the Mediterranean, and the Australian outback. He also conquered both the sky and the water as he obtained a pilot’s license and learned to sail. The air and the land were all right, but Bison particularly loved roaming the waters. He purchased a catamaran and planned to sail the Seven Seas.

Bison called his boat the “Hakuna Matata,” after the popular song in the Disney movie “The Lion King.” The Swahili phrase means “No trouble,” but Bison’s ride on his prized vessel proved to be a voyage of the damned.

On July 6, 2002, Bison, his girlfriend Serena Karlan, his brother Miles Dabord (born Kevin Williams), and skipper Bertrand Saldo, set sail from Tahiti aboard the Hakuna Matata. Two weeks later, on July 20, the Hakuna Matata arrived back in Tahiti. Only one person, however, was aboard.

As soon as he hit the land, Dabord, the lone sailor, hit the road before he could be questioned about his missing crewmates. Investigators soon learned why.

Dabord had forged his brother’s signature and used his passport as identification to buy $152,000 (in Unites States money) in gold. Mexican police found Dabord had stayed at a Tijuana hotel in August of 2002, approximately one month after the group set sail. Two days before, the Hakuna Matata, which had been registered in Tahiti under another name, was found off the Tahitian coast with its nameplate removed. Furthermore, the catamaran was riddled with possible patched bullet holes.

On September 5, 2002, Dabord was located in Phoenix, Arizona, miles away from where he had fled from the Hakuna Matata.

Under questioning, Dabord claimed he and his brother had gotten into an argument and that Serena had been accidentally hit and died when her head struck part of the boat. Dabord said a panicked Bison then killed Skipper Saldo as he began to report her death to the Coast Guard. Dabord then claimed his brother attempted to kill him and that he had shot Bison in self-defense. Dabord said he threw the three bodies overboard.

Authorities were not buying Dabord’s tale of the South Pacific, but with no bodies, they didn’t have any evidence to charge him with a crime.

Three weeks later, on September 27, Dabord took his life by overdosing on insulin. With his death, the chances of finding the bodies of the Hakuna Matata crew mates likely died as well.

Because Tahiti, where the Hakuna Matata set sail, is part of French Polynesia, French authorities are assisting the Coast Guard and the FBI in the investigation. The joint efforts have concluded that Bison, Serena, and Captain Saldo were likely murdered and thrown overboard by Dabord or forced at gunpoint by Dabord into the ocean where they drowned.

The law enforcement agencies believe Dabord likely dumped the bodies in the middle, and deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, meaning it will be highly unlikely they will ever be found.

I could not find a picture of Captain Bertrand Saldo.

Further Reading:
ABC News

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Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in  Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)


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