On Thursday, 26 January 1989, Roy J. Stoddard, 24, and Tamara McAllister, 24, were kayaking off Latigo Point/Paradise Cove, west of Malibu, Los Angeles County, California (about 34°01.2'N; 118°46.5'W). The couple were training for an upcoming triathlon and, to prepare, kayaked and swam almost daily. The 5-to-6-km round trip from Latigo Point [Photograph-Latigo-scan-403-413] to Paradise Cove was a frequent and enjoyable experience for the young couple. The last time anyone would remember seeing McAllister and Stoddard was about 0930 hrs, when they were observed launching their kayaks and paddling around Latigo Point as they headed north toward Paradise Cove.
At about 1015 hrs, a resident of Paradise Cove observed “a heavy boiling and thrashing in the water out past the kelp beds.” The water commotion was west and south of the USCG buoy. They reported; “a lot of splashing water and a churning of the ocean, like a whirlpool, maybe 15 to 20 feet [5 to 6 m] across. It lasted about 5 to 10 minutes, then stopped, with all going quiet in the water.” Pinnipeds frequent the area of the buoy and were observed “trying to crawl up on top of it. They were very agitated when the water was being churned up”
Friday, 27 January, the two kayaks were found lashed together, upside down, 6 km off nearby Zuma Beach in Los Angeles County. They were towed to Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, Ventura County, and were subsequently turned over to the Ventura County Sheriffs Department on 30 January (Photograph). At 1630 hrs on Saturday, 28 January, Tamara McAllister’s body was found 10 km from Channel Islands Harbor (34°05.0'N; 119°18.0'W) on a heading of 220° true. She was wearing a bathing suit and a zippered, blue and black windbreaker jacket. The USCG began a search-and-rescue operation for Stoddard. The extensive search for him was called off after a week. He was never found.
I invested several weeks interviewing local residents, business owners, and others known to be in the area the day McAllister and Stoddard disappeared. No one could remember seeing the couple following their departure at Latigo Point. There are probably countless scenarios for this tragic event. The following is one possibility out of many and is based on circumstantial evidence.
After launching their kayaks from Latigo Point, the couple usually paddled out until they were 50 to 100 m offshore, just inside the kelp canopies, before turning north to Paradise Cove. Once they had arrived at their destination they would swim, talk, and sometimes have a snack before returning to Latigo Point. According to friends familiar with their routines, this trip usually took McAllister and Stoddard 45 to 60 minutes. They could have arrived only minutes after the commotion reported near the buoy. This commotion may have been a white shark feeding on one of the pinnipeds that had been on or near the buoy.
McAllister was found wearing her windbreaker jacket, making it reasonable to assume that she was not swimming at the time of the accident. The kayaks had been found lashed together, suggesting that they were stationary in the water. However, I propose that they might have been trying to return to Latigo Point in heavy seas, with headwinds gusting 30 to 50 knots. McAllister’s kayak had a small crack in the skin of its hull, causing it to take on water. With her slight build, it might have been difficult for McAllister to maneuver her kayak in the stiff headwinds and choppy seas. The kayaks might have been lashed together by the couple in an attempt to combat these rough conditions. Stoddard would have been in the lead kayak, McAllister the following. With both paddling together, Stoddard would have been able to cut a wake, thereby reducing McAllister’s effort.
A hole was discovered in the bow of the white kayak’s underbelly (Photograph). Also present were fractures to either side of the hull. They appear to be stress fractures, caused when the kayak was struck from below. An engineer familiar with the construction and material used in today's kayaks suggested that the observed damage would require the hull to be struck by an object with a mass in excess of 900 kg, traveling at least 17 knots, to cause the damage sustained. Several kayak manufacturers said that a kayak’s construction actually causes it to recoil from an object when struck. This flexible construction could have caused the kayak to be lifted into the air when struck from below with sufficient force.
With McAllister’s kayak being towed behind Stoddard’s, she would have been thrown backwards, possibly striking her head and/or hand on the kayak’s surface. In contrast, Stoddard would have been violently thrown forward and could have struck his head on his kayak’s hatchcover, a piece of plywood 25 mm in thickness. Several small, rounded indentations on the surface of the plywood hatchcover were found and examined. Forensic investigation found no hair, tissue or linen fibers. The source of these indentations could not be determined.
Ventura County Coroner Warren Lovell, with the assistance of investigators Jim Wingate and Mitch Breese, determined the following: “Tamara McAllister died from exsanguination, the result of massive tissue loss to the upper left thigh and a traumatic wound to the upper right thigh that severed the femoral artery and vein. Measurement of the left thigh injury exceeded 34 centimeters in diameter.” Bruises to the right hand and back of her head where also reported. The dimensions of Tamara McAllister’s injury suggest that a White Shark about 5 m in length was responsible for this unfortunate tragedy.
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