Mysterious Island: THE CURIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF EILEEN JEFFERS, PART 2

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On May 4, 1965, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Thomas C. Yager and his new bride Eileen Yager (née Jeffers) powered across the San Pedro Channel from Newport Beach to Catalina Island for a “pre-honeymoon.”  

After their sojourn to the Isle of Romance, they were set to return to Newport Beach and then fly to Honolulu to continue their escapade.

On May 4, 1965, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Thomas C. Yager and his new bride Eileen Yager (née Jeffers) powered across the San Pedro Channel from Newport Beach to Catalina Island for a “pre-honeymoon.”  

After their sojourn to the Isle of Romance, they were set to return to Newport Beach and then fly to Honolulu to continue their escapade.

Only the day before, Yager and Jeffers had been married in the private chapel of Archbishop James Francis McIntyre of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  Yager, at 47 years of age, and Eileen, a very wealthy heiress of 61 years, were both getting married for the very first time in their lives.

The couple spent two days at Catalina before weighing anchor and heading back to Newport Beach.

The problem is, however, that Eileen never made it back.  

During the journey back across the channel, she disappeared, never to be seen again.

Since the two honeymooners were the only people aboard the 36-foot motorboat the “Carefree,” we have only Judge Yager’s account of what happened.

It went something like this:

About halfway across the channel on the way back to Newport Beach, Yager first noticed that his new bride was missing.  

He told investigators he had gone below deck, leaving Eileen at the wheel on the open flying deck above the cabin.  

The winds had picked up to 15 knots and the seas were choppy.  

When the judge came topside again, Eileen was gone.

“It was my recollection she was behind the wheel,” he would later tell investigators.  

He recalled she was wearing “a straw hat, light scarf, white sweater and red skirt.”

According to Yager, he could not call the Coast Guard because the radio was not working.  

(Investigators immediately tested the radio upon Yager’s entrance into the harbor and confirmed this.  However, a spokesman for the charter boat company said the radio had been overhauled just before renting the boat to Yager).

Yager said that after he discovered that his wife was missing, he motored around “for an hour” looking for her, but to no avail.  

He then headed to Newport Beach.

By the time that the Coast Guard mounted a search, Eileen had been missing for hours.  

The 95-foot cutter “Cape Hatteras” was dispatched along with two amphibious planes and two helicopters, but they found not a trace of Eileen.

After being questioned by police, Yager was confronted by the press and reportedly told them, “I’ve already told my story six times.   I’m not going to tell it again.”

Yager was never charged with any wrongdoing.  

However, the incident was to haunt him for the rest of his life.

According to the L.A. Metropolitan News-Enterprise, there were immediate calls for his ouster from the bench and he was challenged in the 1966 elections by then-L.A. Municipal Court Judges George Dell and Leila Bulgrin.  Judge Dell, in fact, admitted that he ran against Yager in large part because of the public’s leeriness of the incident.

Although Yager ended up winning the primary, it is worth noting that he was the only one of the six incumbent judges on the ballot that was NOT endorsed by the County Bar. Yager remained on the court until his retirement in 1978.  

Interestingly, upon his retirement he issued a press release that proclaimed he had established “a complete, new religion by the name of The Community Betterment Service” and that he expected to “devote most of my time to serving the highest court—Almighty God.”  The Metropolitan-News notes that, despite two attempts to interview Yager about his new religion, the judge refused to talk about it.

Unlike Eileen, Thomas Charles Yager went on to lead a long life.  

He passed away on Nov. 20, 2008, at the age of 90.

Epilogue

What really happened on that windy, choppy day so long ago in the San Pedro Channel?  

We can all feel like regular Lieutenant Columbos by jumping to the conclusion that Yager disposed of his wife to cash in on her fortune (and the large life insurance policy that she no doubt had).

Besides the obvious age difference and Eileen’s wealth, we have the convenient failure of the radio, the statement by the charter boat operator that the radio had recently been overhauled and, quite simply, the oddity of Yager “going below” during rough weather leaving his frail 61-year-old wife at the helm.

Sure, he may have been making a quick trip to the head before coming back up on deck.   

But remember, his statement to the police was that it was his “recollection” that his wife had been at the wheel—sort of an odd thing to say if he had turned the wheel over to her for only a quick break.

But it is a conclusion that, in my opinion, is probably a little TOO obvious.  

Are we to believe that a man as well versed in the ways and workings of the law couldn’t even wait for the ink to dry on his marriage license before doing in his wealthy new bride?  

Additionally, there was nothing else I could find in this man’s 90 years of life—either before or after Eileen’s disappearance—to indicate anything other than that he had led a lawful, civilized life in the public service.

Any criminal psychologist will tell you that it’s not likely that a person capable of such a brutal, cold-hearted act could hide such a personality from all those around him.

None of this, of course, proves or disproves anything and odds are we will never know the answer.

The only physical evidence that might prove the case one way or another has long since settled into the sand in the perpetual darkness of the deep Pacific.

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