Vernon man at the center of a mystery at sea
VERNON — Residents of this small town in the corner of southeastern Vermont are dealing with a deluge of reporters in search of a man who was rescued in the Atlantic Ocean after eight days adrift in a life raft.
By Wednesday afternoon, one observer counted people from at least 10 media organizations, six satellite trucks and even one news helicopter circling Nathan Carman's house in Vernon.
"I have been peppered with questions from about 10 different outfits since yesterday," a neighbor told the Reformer. "I really don't know the guy that well anyways. Him and I never got too neighborly."
Other people told the Reformer that they didn't know him very well because he hadn't been in town long enough to make friends or acquaintances.
On Tuesday, The Windham County Sheriff's Office conducted a search of Nathan Carman's home at the behest of South Kingston, R.I., Police Department. Carman, 22, spent a week at sea in a four-person, inflatable life raft after his 31-foot aluminum fishing boat — the Chickenpox — sank. On Monday, he was rescued by a passing freighter 100 miles off the coast of Martha's Vineyard and on Tuesday he arrived in Boston and was being questioned by Coast Guard officials. However, his mother, Linda Carman, 54, of Middletown, Conn., is still missing and presumed dead, Coast Guard officials said.
Now questions have arisen about work Carman did, and failed to do, to his boat prior to setting off on the fishing trip on Sept. 18, including removing trim tabs from the vessel and failing to fix the boat's bilge pump.
"The investigation revealed that Nathan's boat was in need of mechanical repair and that Nathan had been conducting a portion of these repairs upon his own volition, which could have potentially rendered his boat unsafe for operation," wrote South Kingston Police's Lt. Alfred E. Bucco III, in an affidavit requesting a search warrant of Carman's Vernon home. "The investigation has also revealed that Nathan had intended to go fishing farther off-shore in a different location than what were his mother's intentions and understanding."
It has also come to light that Carman was a suspect in the death of his grandfather, John Chakalos, who died of a gunshot wound to the head in his home in Windsor, Conn., in 2013. The 87-year-old man also owned a home in Chesterfield, N.H., and each Christmas festooned it with thousands of dollars worth of Christmas lights. Visitors were allowed to come view the display and were encouraged to donate to the local food shelf as a form of payment.
In July 2014, Windsor police submitted an arrest warrant for Carman on a murder charge, but the warrant was returned by the prosecutor unsigned the next day, according to a warrant that police used to search Carman's apartment in Middletown, where he lived at the time, according to the Hartford, Conn., Courant.
The search warrant indicates the arrest warrant was returned with a "request for further information." Carman was not charged. The chief state's attorney's cold case unit is assisting Windsor police in the investigation but no arrests have been made in the murder, authorities said.
Carman returned to his Vernon home on Tuesday and on Wednesday he spoke with the media, criticizing The Courant for reporting that he was a suspect in his grandfather's 2013 shooting death.
"He loved me very dearly," said Carman. "I was like a son to him; he was like a father to me."
Carman's lawyer, Hubert Santos, had no comment Tuesday on the Windsor investigation, according to the Courant and the Associated Press. He said his client cooperated with the U.S. Coast Guard when he was brought in to Boston Harbor on Tuesday morning.
Carman arrived at his home in Vernon about 8 p.m. Tuesday.
"All I'm going to say right now to you is that a terrible tragedy happened," Carman told the media on Wednesday. "I'm lucky to be alive, I lost my mother and very, very difficult people, especially The Hartford Courant are trying or, raking up the time when I lost my grandfather, (he) was like a father to me and casting that in just a very, very wrong light."
Clark Carman, Nathan's father, who lives in California, was in Middletown on Wednesday. He told The Courant that his son's rescue was "a miracle."
Crew members aboard the freighter Orient Lucky happened to spot the raft as they were walking on the ship's deck during the day.
"The ship was passing by and two crew members were walking from the stern to the bow, and all of a sudden one spotted him and they alerted the captain and stopped the ship and turned around," he said. "He said the whole time he was out there, he saw one other ship and it was very distant."
Clark Carman also told The Courant that he was shocked that his son was considered a suspect in the death of his grandfather.
"He was a suspect because he was the last one to see my father-in-law alive," Carman said. "The kid was so devoted to him. There were only two people in his life, his mother and his grandfather. There was no motive. There was nothing to gain with John dying, he had everything to lose. He's not the type of individual who's aggressive. He'd walk away from a situation rather than attack. Really it's not in his mental makeup."
According to The Courant, Nathan Carman moved in to his Vernon house about two-and-a-half years ago.
According to a warrant application for Carman's home in Windsor that was issued in 2014 during the investigation into the death of his grandfather, Nathan was the last known person to see Chakalos alive on Dec. 20, 2013, as the two were having dinner. The next morning, one of Chakalos' daughters found 87-year-old Chakalos dead in his home — shot three times in the head and torso.
The Courant noted that the search warrant states that Carman, who was then 20, became a suspect after police interviewed his mother, Linda Carman, who told them that her son was supposed to meet her in Glastonbury at 3 a.m. that morning to drive to Rhode Island but didn't show up.
According to The Courant, police searched Nathan's Middletown apartment on George Street on July 18, 2014, and found a Remington tactical shotgun, a rifle scope and several boxes of ammunition, the search warrant states. The rifle did not match the caliber of the gun used to kill Chakalos, the search warrant says.
The Chakalos case remains open, and the family has posted a billboard on I- 91 that says it is offering a $250,000 reward for information.
The Coast Guard released an audio recording of an interview with Nathan Carman, in which he said "There was a funny noise in the engine compartment. I looked and saw a lot of water. ... I brought the safety stuff forward ... the boat just dropped out from under my feet. When I saw the life raft, I did not see my mom. I got to the life raft after I got my bearings, and I was whistling and calling and looking around, and I didn't see (my mother)."
A will shows Chakalos left an estate worth more than $42 million to his four adult daughters.
The Reformer thanks The Associated Press and The Hartford Courant for their contributions to this story.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.
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