Tags: Michael Rockefeller | cannibals | book | New Guinea | tribe

Book Claims Michael Rockefeller Killed and Eaten by Cannibals

By Courtney Coren   |   Monday, 24 Feb 2014 12:57 PM

A new book claims that Michael Rockefeller, son of former Vice President and New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, was killed and eaten by cannibals in New Guinea in 1961 while on a search for primitive art.

The tale of his grisly death is detailed in a book by journalist Carl Hoffman in "Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art" and was revealed in an excerpt from the book in the most recent publication of Smithsonian Magazine.

It was previously believed that Michael had died because his catamaran had capsized while en route to New Guinea's Asmat tribal homeland.

However, Hoffman learned that Michael was spotted swimming in the water by about 50 men from the tribe Otsjanep, who killed the former New York governor's son because of anger they still had about a massacre that had been carried out against them by a westerner four years earlier.

After they killed him, they laid his body on a big fire and divided his bones among about 15 men, according to a Dutch Catholic priest named Hubertus von Peij, who worked in the area at the time.

Von Peij wrote to his superiors about the confession he had heard from four men from the Otsjanep tribe about the murder.

After another priest, Cornelius van Kessel, investigated the matter, he wrote a report about his findings to a regional government controller.

"After my conversation with Father von Peij, the 1 percent of doubt I had has been taken by the very detailed data, which matched with my data and inspections," he wrote.


These reports were sent to the Dutch government less than a month after Michael died, but the government in the Netherlands decided not to disclose the information because the government officials didn't think there was enough evidence.

A third Dutch priest sent a letter to Michael's parents, which was reported by the Associated Press in 1962. However, the Dutch foreign affairs minister Joseph Luns said that the news had been investigated and was not true.

However, according to Hoffman, the Dutch investigation had only just begun at that point, and it was not yet complete.

Hoffman said he spoke to the Dutch patrol officer, Wim van de Waal, who had been sent to Otsjanep in 1962 to talk to locals and figure out what had happened.

The story he heard was the same that the priests had told.

However, he was told by the Dutch government to leave the village and to never offer a report on his discoveries.

Hoffman then spent some time in New Guinea, where the story of Michael's death was confirmed to him through his Amates translator and later by video footage he captured of local men discussing it and the importance that it remain in their village.

Hoffman's book and a full account is set to be published March 18.

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