Man on trial for Murder flees our Anchorage by Yacht! (Sailing La Vagabonde) Ep. 71

An abandoned, creepy looking yacht called the ‘Sea Oak’ that was covered in security tape, was anchored right near La Vagabonde in Neiafu – Vava’u, Tonga. The captain of the vessel, Dean Fletcher, allegedly killed his wife onboard in July of 2016. He was placed in a Tongan jail until one night when he escaped his cell, swam out to his yacht and took off. The most action packed event the police have ever had to deal with in these quiet islands in the Pacific! With some pretty chilled out days for us on the water, we decided to follow the story up. Detective Elenita and Riles are out for now. Enjoy!

Man on Trial For Murder Flees our Anchorage by Yacht! – Full Report

As awful and sad as this story was, you don’t come across this kind of action a lot when you’re spending most of your days sailing in quiet, remote locations. So Riles and I did a bit of investigatory work…

So the story goes like this.

One evening in July 2016, there was a boat named ‘Sea Oak’  anchored in Neiafu Harbor – Vava’u, Tonga. Reports say the couple onboard (Dean Fletcher, 54 and his wife Patricia Linne Kearney, 58) were on their way home on the tender when the pair started yelling at each other. Not before too long, the argument became physical and they began fighting. Witnesses from nearby yachts say they saw Dean assaulting her on the dinghy. In the morning, the lady wouldn’t wake up. Reports say he took the body to the police and he told them that his wife ‘fell down the stairs’ on their yacht while she was intoxicated. An autopsy established the deceased had suffered what appeared to be severe bruising to her body.

Mr. Fletcher was arrested and thrown into jail while the ‘Sea Oak’ was seized and impounded.

The prison system in Tonga is quite an interesting one and we’ve heard a lot of chatter amongst the locals and sailors about it. There is no cafeteria system and it is up to family or friends to bring the prisoners food. I was really surprised to hear (this is just what we heard, and this cannot be confirmed) that Dean was actually the only prisoner kept in Vava’u and was often left alone… with the key to his own jail cell! So he would walk about the streets in the late evenings and return at a certain time in the night to lock himself back up, as ordered by a guard/guards. Now again, I don’t know how much of this is true. But what we DO know is that on the night of September 29, Dean Fletcher escaped prison, swam out to the Sea Oak and set sail in the early hours of the morning.

While Riley and I were anchored in Neiafu Harbor that same night, we awoke to our pal Dave from S/V Starry Horizons telling us that after hearing some unusual talk on the VHF that morning, he quickly discovered what had happened while we slept. After a 5 hour stand-off with a Tonga Police Search and Rescue boat, the team was forced to pull out of the pursuit of the Sea Oak due to the fact the Dean had fired several flares at the small boat and threatened to set fire to it in the northwest Vava’u waters. Mr. Fletcher was believed to be holding a bottle of benzene liquid. Dean got away and went missing for a few days.

He was soon spotted and captured in Pago Pago harbour, 321nm North of Vava’u trying to fuel up his yacht. A lady had spotted him and tipped off police. The last we heard he was taken back to Tongan custody.

​RIP Linne.​

Related link:


Song Credits:
00:08 Matter of Time – Joe Mungovan
03:13 Soma Days – Instrumental – AAA+
05:56 Optimistic Homeless – Alon Barak
06:55 Becoming Melody – Alon Barak
09:31 Optimistic Homeless – Alon Barak
13:11 Optimistic Homeless – Alon Barak
13:54 Tryin’ to be Zeppelin III – Drew Blackard

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Additional film/edit: Julian Wood

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Comments 20

  1. Do be cautious how you even seem to criticize either the Justice or the Health systems of your host countries. That said, the habit of leaving it to the families of inmates of either jails or hospitals to feed them, is very common in a whole host of the poorer countries and even in some of the richer ones.

    And were you even a little bit more ‘on the side of’ the guy (perhaps because he was a fellow yachtsman) or his wife (who was dead)?

    1. He should have been buried in the sand to his neck on a rising tide.

  2. Tongan justice system is the Tongan justice system and I’m not going to criticize it. If I’m ever in Tonga (or anywhere else) I will respect their laws as I would expect people to respect the laws of the US. As for feeding the prisoners, I may contribute a little something. As for his guilt or innocence I would leave that to the legal system there.

    Riley, I believe it’s about time for a new hat.

  3. Being that I am a woman, if a guy beats his wife or GF there will be no food coming from me. I would just move on and let what happens happen.

  4. Well said. You don’t really know who your neighbors are. That being said, what would happen if he had no one to feed him? Also what would you two if you woke up at night and it was your boat he swam to? Be safe out there!!

  5. I’m with the others who agree to respect the host countries laws in which your in. Just about everywhere you go there will be problems with people attacking each other. I find that out in Key West with a lot of people who anchor out and are not on a city mooring ball. In 20 years of being a liveaboard I can tell a few wild stories but that would take too long. All I can say is BE AWARE of your surroundings and people . Other than that I feel safer being aboard than on land any day. It’s a wonderful life not meant for everyone. THANK GOD. Riley glad you got the right prop and Elayna doesn’t have to row anymore..Keep up the great videos….and as always have fun and may God Bless you both. Captain Dave on s/v Morning Star.

  6. I think that type of jail system might be common among islands. I spent 15 days in a jail in Jamaica back in the early 70s (falsely charged with conspiracy to export pot). The Jamaicans arrested with us 10 or so Americans were allowed to go out everyday to make money to feed themselves. They wouldn’t let us out but the group I was with had friends that brought fruit and passed it through the cell bars, open to the street.

    The “cell” was a room about 20 foot long x 12 feet wide, with a walkway about 4 feet wide. The rest of the room was slanted pieces of plywood set off the floor about 3 feet, covering the entire length of the room. There was a bucket to do your business in, which I am pretty sure was the same bucket they brought us “food” in…..I guess to say they weren’t starving us if anyone asked. The whole thing was a put-on designed to roust all the Americans out of the mountains where most of them had been living (it was the 70s remember).

  7. Here’s a link giving more information on the situation.
    As someone who had a friend who was murdered by her husband I have strong opinions about this situation but will make only restrained comments. I don’t understand why people would just watch as she was being severely beaten and do nothing. Please if you see something like this do not ignore it. If you are too afraid to do something yourself contact the authorities and report it. It is sad that we care so little for our fellow human beings. People are willing to bring food to the accused but no one could call out, pick up a radio or do anything to intervene to help this woman. Come on fellow sailors we can do better than this. Riley and Elayna be careful out there.

    1. It is sad that people are conditioned to not get involved when they see this happen. I called the police once when I was in a parking lot and a guy threatened the women he was with with. This was in the US and the police looked into it no idea what happened but was not going to stand by and let it just happen. She was not going to stand up to him.

      In many male dominated cultures treating women badly is common and not reported. I will stick my neck out if it is needed men should be protecting women and children not hurting them.

  8. Sounds like the Tongan system was designed for Tongans. Probably worked well for their long history before foreign visitors were commonplace. Having said that, it seems to not be very logical at this point in time. With respect to helping with food, I would think if he really didn’t have access to others or food, it is your duty as a human to make sure he doesn’t starve. Regardless of what he may have done, in my country (and in my mind) one is innocent until proven guilty and should be treated humanely both before, during, and after the judicial process.

  9. Well was the guy convicted, or was he awaiting trial? You didn’t tell us, Detective Riley! If not convicted then it’d be a disgrace not to feed him.
    Of course it’s all very well to focus on food, but in some countries there are worse hazards . . . . so for example in Equatorial Guinea’s prisons you get fed, but you also get malaria, bed-bugs, cholera and a high chance of male rape. Point is, don’t commit any crime in another country’s jurisdiction!

  10. Hi Riley,Elayna and Julz. Thanks for the glimpse of ‘real life’ in the Islands. Although not an every-day occurence, it was good to hear and see what goes on in the background. Well done,Riles & Elenita!
    And hooray for the new prop! That’ll make tendering just that much better.
    Keep it up,hope you have a good xmas break and stay safe.

  11. I’m very sad to hear about Patricia’s murder. I met up with Patricia about 7 years ago when she was in her home town of West Vancouver, B.C. Canada to visit her family. We were friends in elementary school in West Vancouver. Patricia was a very nice person. Lydia

  12. What if he didn’t murder her? I’m in Honolulu and I’ve been reading about this case since I seen it in the news and I don’t understand; if he actually did something to his wife why did he go to the authorities? and why didn’t he left her in the middle of the ocean? I think this would’ve been his first thought If he killed her. Also I haven’t seen any witnesses that say they seen him hitting her. Anybody heard anything directly from these people? And if 3 different people seen him hit her. No one said or did nothing? Is so sad that this lady died, but I think It could be very sad too if this man actually didn’t do it, and we all think he killed his wife. I read in a different article that someone met them in mazhatlan and said they were a loving couple and that she had nerve system problems, maybe someone knows more about that? I think if you leave everything to travel the world you love life, I know anyone can be a murderer, but I don’t know it doesn’t sound so convincing to me that he’s responsible for what happened. I think there should be a deeper investigation to judge this guy.

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