Angus P. Boatwright was born in South Carolina, on March 22, 1906. Sometime after the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, but prior to the 1940 census, he moved to the Upper Keys.
According to Suze Fowler, who once owned and operated the Caribee Yacht Basin with her husband Everett, they purchased a building on Upper Matecumbe in the late 1930s from Boatwright. She does not say what building. In any case, the 1940 census records Boatwright, 34, and his wife Ester, 28, as residents of Monroe County.
During World War II, Boatwright served in the Coast Guard Reserves. While living in the Keys, he advertised his services as a charter boat captain. Throughout his fishing career, Boatwright operated his 38-foot cruiser Muriel III out of Holiday Isle, Lower Matecumbe, and his own fish camp, Boatwright Fish Camp, on Indian Key Fill. The Indian Key Fill road sign announced: Charter Boat, Two Motors, Deep Sea Fishing, Bay Fishing, Rowboats Rented, $1 A Day. The property would later become Blueberry Hill, a restaurant destroyed by Hurricane Donna in 1960.
Before the famed Islamorada Hump became the fisherman’s Mecca it is today, the undersea “mountain” was Boatwright’s secret fishing spot. In a 1956 edition of Sports Illustrated, Boatwright’s Lower Matecumbe house was listed as Captain Angus Boatwright, reef and stream fishing. Angus and Ester Boatwright’s concrete house would make them the second permanent family to call the island home. The first had been the Starck family who built in 1946. The Starck house, as well as the Boatwright house, still stands on the island.
While it would be awesome to continue a yarn about the man considered the second permanent resident of Lower Matecumbe and how he was one of the early fishing guides to become established in the Upper Keys, this is not that kind of story. Boatwright’s is a pirate story.
April 24 started out as just another day when he and mate Ken Hokanson readied the Muriel III for a fishing charter booked by four men from Pennsylvania. What the passengers and crew of the Muriel III did not realize was that six days earlier a trio of desperadoes had fled Key West. The use of the modifier “trio” is not right as the group consisted of two men with criminal histories and an unsuspecting young wife who had met her husband less than a month before. Later actions would indicate she was no Bonnie to her husband’s Clyde.
The trio arrived in Key West and negotiated a $3,000 price for a 42-foot cabin cruiser. A check was issued, but the owner chose not to release the vessel until the draft cleared through the bank. While the right decision, as the note would prove fraudulent, it would not matter. The group had been passing bad checks across several states and, desperate to flee Key West before the law caught up with then, stole the 42-foot cruiser and made a run for Cuba.
Unsuccessful in their getaway, not only had the boat been low on fuel, but a storm blew them off course. They spotted a lighthouse on a spit of land, North Elbow Cay, approximately 65 miles southeast of Key West near the Cay Sal Bank. They tied the boat off at the island and sought refuge inside the lighthouse.
With plenty of food taken from the stolen vessel, freshwater was running low. Fortunately, a cistern on the island contained slightly salty, but potable water. Unfortunately, several days after arriving on the island, a second storm battered and wrecked the stolen cabin cruiser. After six days of being stranded on North Elbow Cay, hope was spotted on the horizon.
Hoping to show the four Pennsylvania men a fishing good time, Boatwright charted a course for Cay Sal Bank. Near North Elbow Cay, he noticed mirror signals being flashed in the distance. The captain understood the signals could be coming from smugglers or gun runners and approached with due caution. Instead, he came upon three stranded Americans, two men in their 20s and a young girl.
Boatwright remained 200 feet off the beach as he called to notify the Coast Guard. The captain was told to provide the party with food and water and to inform the stranded that help was on the way. One of the shipwrecked, Billy Sees, swam out to the Muriel III and pleaded with Boatwright to use his radio to contact his worried father. Once on board an argument ensued. Guns were pulled. Boatwright’s .30-30 caliber lever action shark-rifle jammed when he fired. Sees pulled a pistol out from his waistband and shot the captain twice, once in the head and once in the chest.
Sees waved for his partner, Alvin Tables, Jr. to swim out to the boat. The girl, too afraid to swim, refused to go to the boat. The Pennsylvanian fishermen and mate were ordered to give up their wallets and told to abandon the ship. Boatwright was floated to the small island on life preservers and died shortly thereafter. Table and Sees took off in the Muriel III.
The boat ran aground off of Cuba and the pair arrested by Cuban authorities. When the Bahamians discovered they had been captured, Table and Sees were eventually returned to stand trial in a Bahamian court of law. After a three day trial, Alvin Tables, Jr. and Billy Sees were hung to death on May 9, 1961 at Fox Hill Prison.
Angus P. Boatwright was buried in Batesburg, South Carolina.
Brad Bertelli is an Upper Keys historian and curator of the Keys History & Discovery Center. The author of five books on Florida and Florida Keys history, his column appears every other week in The Reporter. Reach Brad with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.