Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Disappearance of D.P. Davis

Florida real estate developer D.P. Davis, the man who created Tampa's Davis Islands resort and started St. Augustine's Davis Shores, set sail on the luxury liner Majestic in October 1926.

The transatlantic voyage, from the United States to France, had an unhappy ending for Davis. On the night of October 12, Davis went overboard and was lost at sea. And ever since then, speculation continually churns: did he commit suicide, did he accidentally fall, or was he pushed?

The suicide theory is plausible. Davis had just been forced to sell out his shares of the Davis Islands. He'd hoped to turn Davis Shores into a cash cow but was facing setbacks at the fade of the Florida land boom. His marriage was failing, and his wife had fled to France. Some say chasing after her was apparently the entire reason for Davis' ill-fated voyage - Cherchez la femme? - except then it would seem rather strange that he brought along his girlfriend Lucille Zehring.

Was he murdered? A steward claims to have overheard a fight between Davis and Zehring, followed by Davis shouting, "I can go on living or end it. I can make money or spend it. It all depends on you," followed by a loud splash. The steward's story is not very believable, however - when you're inside a giant cruise ship several stories high, you could throw an elephant overboard and not hear the splash.

Could his death really have been an accident? Zehring insisted she didn't push him. According to her version of the story, Davis had been sitting in an open porthole and accidentally fell. Davis was a raging alcoholic and was probably drunk at the time of the incident, whatever that incident was.

I suggest that a fourth possibility, that Davis faked his own death could be even likelier. Davis knew the Florida land boom was ending. He had lost his wife and was squabbling with his new girlfriend. He reportedly was carrying $50,000 in cash on his person, which was unlike him. Just a few months prior, Victory National sold Davis a life insurance policy to the tune of $300,000. Additionally, Davis already held life insurance policies with other companies as well. It was the insurance agencies who first raised the possibility of a fake death, out of suspicion that his body was not recovered after a mysterious disappearance off a ship in the middle of the ocean on a cruise whose purpose no one was really sure of.

Failing finding a surprise confession tucked inside a dusty forgotten book beneath the floorboards in the locked basement of an abandoned building in Gainesville or something, we can't know what happened, and thus we must be left in a mystery forevermore.

The plots of the TV show Mad Men have an uncanny ability to key in on concerns of my own life great and small, and in ways ranging from symbolic to literal. In the current storyline, Pete Campbell's mother has vanished by falling off a ship on a cruise. I'm watching closely this season to see what their resolution is, as "divination by television" is my specialty. Hey, it's either that or ask the Magic 8-Ball.


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