The Note in a Test Tube

While researching another story that involved Del Norte County Sheriff Harold Scott, indicted by a grand jury in 1957 for operating a brothel, I ran across a name I knew all to well — my fathers. Admittedly, my heart skipped a beat to think he’d be involved in prostitution, but I pressed on to uncover a story my old man never shared about helping to recover four bodies from the ocean in mid-August 1955.

It began on a Saturday when the four disappeared while salmon fishing in a heavy fog off the mouth of the Klamath River. A test tube washed ashore containing an unsigned note which read: “Boat is drifting toward shore three quarter miles north of Wilson Creek.”

Eventually the rented skiff was found overturned on an isolated beach below a 2,000 foot cliff. Sheriff Scott and Deputy William Bowen got to the body of one of the victims by horseback at six o’clock that Monday evening.

They put the body on the horse and started up the sheer bluffs some four miles south of Crescent City. However the horse became exhausted and the sheriff and Bowen were forced to leave the body behind and finish the trip on foot.

They arrived in Crescent City at 10 o’clock and promptly pressed a helicopter into service. The attempt to recover the body by helicopter failed when the 32-foot span of the craft’s blades proved too wide for the narrow, cliff-surrounded inlet.

The sheriff and Coroner Norman Weir stood by in a boat as a safety precaution because of the close quarters in which the aircraft had to operate.  Scott then tried to take the boat into the inlet, but he shied away because “the beach shoreline is strewn with boulders.”

Searchers, including my dad, finally retrieved the body of Dr. Fred W. Holmes, late Tuesday. Other members of the group included Glen Willhite, Jerry White, an Airman Lee and Airman J.C. Messick from the Requa Air Force Station in Klamath.

A positive identification of the body was made by Dr. Howard Holmes, the victim’s brother. Dr. Fred G. Holmes, the father of Howard, and Howard’s two sons, Fred Jr., 10, and eight-year-old Stephen, also drown.

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