Names: Bison Dele age 33, Serena Karlan age 30, and Bertrand Saldo age 32
Last seen: July 7, 2002
Location: Tahiti, French Polynesia
Status: Still missing
Disappeared: Season 1 Episode 12 “Dark Waters”
33 year old Bison Dele was last seen near Tahiti on July 7, 2002. He disappeared at sea along with his girlfriend Serena Karlan and boat captain Bertrand Saldo.
Bison Dele (born Brian Carson Williams) was born on April 6, 1969 in Fresno, California to parents Patricia Phillip and Eugene Williams. His parents were divorced and he had an older brother, Miles Dabord (born Kevin Williams).
During childhood Dele was an accomplished track and field runner, and got into basketball, in part because of his height, in high school.
Dele attended Saint Monica Catholic in Santa Monica, California where he played in the McDonald’s All-American Game. He later transferred to Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, to live with his father, Eugene Williams, a member of The Platters vocal group.
In 1987, Dele moved across the country and got accepted to the University of Maryland where he began his collegiate basketball career. Between 1990 and 1991, he played his final two college seasons at the University of Arizona where he was an honorable mention All-America.
During the 1991 NBA Draft, Bison Dele was drafted in the first round by the Orlando Magic with the tenth pick. He subsequently played two seasons with Orlando, two with the Denver Nuggets, one with the Los Angeles Clippers, and one with the Chicago Bulls.
During his time with the Los Angeles Clippers, Dele started an on and off romantic relationship with 25 year old Serena Karlan, who lived in Los Angeles, California and was studying to become a makeup artist.
During the 1996–97 NBA season, Dele played a key role in the Chicago Bulls’ run to their fifth NBA title in seven seasons. A year later, he legally changed his name from Brian Carson Williams to Bison Dele to honor his African and Cherokee heritage.
Before the 1999-2000 NBA season, Dele officially announced his retirement, ending his eight year career in the NBA at age 30. The move came as a surprise, considering he was the Detroit Pistons’ highest paid player and had five years left on his $45 million contract.
Following his retirement, Dele moved to Arizona and lived with a group of friends on a houseboat on Lake Powell. He spent the following year traveling all around the world, visiting Europe, Lebanon, the Seychelles, India, and Indonesia.
Dele took an interest in the art and culture of Australia and lived for a short time in the port city of Fremantle, in the metropolitan area of Perth. He learned to sail and purchased a 55-foot catamaran for $650,000.
Dele named the boat the Hakuna Matata, Swahili for “No Worries” and hired 32 year old French man Bertrand Saldo as boat captain to the catamaran. In early 2002, Dele began a journey with friends to sail along the coast of New Zealand to the Great Barrier Island and Auckland.
Dele convinced his former girlfriend Serena Karlan to leave her life in New York and join him on his itinerary. The pair had previously reunited in October 2001, and Karlan agreed to leave her real estate career in New York City following the events of 9/11.
While they were in Auckland, Dele’s older brother, Miles Dabord, arrived unexpectedly in an attempt to reconnect with him. The two brothers had been estranged for years, and it appeared their relationship was strained during the journey in New Zealand.
On May 29, 2002, the Hakuna Matata left Auckland and set sail for Tahiti, with Saldo and Dabord on board. Dele and Karlan, having decided to fly ahead to Tahiti, left the next day on their own.
On June 19, 2002, the Hakuna Matata arrived in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, French Polynesia. They soon joined Dele and Karlan, who were staying at Sofitel Coralia la Ora Hotel, a luxury resort on the nearby island of Moorea.
On July 6, 2002, the Hakuna Matata departed from a harbor in Papeete, setting sail for the island of Raiatea and from there to Honolulu, Hawaiï. Four people were on board, Bison Dele, his older brother Miles Dabord, his girlfriend Serena Karlan, and skipper Bertrand Saldo.
Over the next two days, three satellite phone calls emanated from the boat before all communication stopped. Bison Dele, Serena Karlan and Bertrand Saldo never returned and have not been heard from since.
On September 5, 2002, Miles Dabord was arrested by police in Phoenix, Arizona when he attempted to purchase $152,096 in Gold Eagle coins from a gold merchant using his brother’s name, checking account, and passport.
Dabord claimed he was buying the gold on behalf of his brother. He told police that his brother and Karlan were alive when he last saw them in Tahiti. After seven hours of interrogation, authorities released him for lack of evidence.
The next morning, Dabord joined his girlfriend of two years, Erica Wiese, in Palo Alto, California. The pair drove to San Diego where they spent a last night before Dabord crossed the border into Mexico alone, checking at a hotel in Tijuana.
On September 14, 2002, a John Doe was found in a comatose state, sitting nearly naked on a park bench, overlooking a Tijuana beach.
Suspect in South Pacific disappearances died in hospital
On September 15, 2002, the John Doe was brought back to the United States and identified by fingerprints as Miles Dabord. He was in critical condition, and lapsed into an irreversible coma following a suicide attempt by overdosing on insulin and painkillers.
On September 27, 2002, 35 year old Miles Dabord died at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Chula Vista, California, a day after being removed from life support.
Sequence of events following the South Pacific disappearances
On July 8, 2002, a man matching Dabord’s description was witnessed alone, docking the Hakuna Matata into Moorea, a volcanic island northwest of Tahiti.
According to his girlfriend, Erica Wiese, she had flown in from Los Angeles to meet him on the same day. They spent a week in the Pearl Beach Resort during which she asked about Dele and Karlan. Dabord declared they were in Raiatea, an island northwest of Tahiti.
On July 20, 2002, a catamaran registered as the Aria Bella was docked into the Phaeton Bay of Taravao, a southeastern shore of Tahiti. The boat had been repainted and had the vinyl letters spelling Hukuna Matata removed from its stern.
Witnesses reported seeing a man fitting Dabord’s description stepping alone off the boat. The signature on the boat’s registration slip was an alias that was neither his two names, nor that of Dele.
On the same day, Dabord took a flight from Papeete in the direction of California, United States.
Missing man’s brother confesses account of events
Before committing suicide, Dabord had given his girlfriend, Erica Wiese, an account of what happened on July 7, 2002, following his release from the Phoenix police.
According to Dabord, he and his brother got into an heated argument when Dele accidentally punched Serena Karlan in the face when she tried to intervene. Karlan got knocked down and hit her head against a steel davit, dying instantly.
Dele then killed Bertrand Saldo by hitting him in the head with a wrench because the skipper wanted to report Karlan’s death. The fight with Dele continued, and Dabord ultimately shot him in self defense.
Afterward, Dabord weighed down the three bodies and dumped them overboard into the South Pacific before sailing the Hukuna Matata back alone to Tahiti.
Miles Dabord, born Kevin Williams, is considered by the FBI the leading suspect surrounding the disappearances of Bison Dele, his girlfriend Serena Karlan and boat captain Bertrand Saldo. They are all presumed dead.
Officially, Bison Dele’s disappearance remains open, but there are no new leads. His case is classified as missing.
Resources & Further Information
Bison Dele – Wikipedia
News & Media Links
Pistons’ Dele Retires – CBS News 10/1999
Witnesses say Dele’s brother brought boat in alone – ESPN NBA 09/02
Dearly Departed – Rocky Mountains News 10/02
Dabord’s Girlfriend: I’ve Told All – South Florida Sun-Sentinel 10/02
Dabord’s Autopsy Released – Los Angeles Times 01/03
Ex-NBA Player, Girlfriend Vanish in South Pacific – ABC News 01/06
Did Sibling Rivalry Lead to NBA Star’s Death at Sea? – ABC News 01/06