Boater Discovers Body Of Missing Publisher

By Elizabeth Williamson and Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The body of missing publisher Philip Merrill, who disappeared June 10 while boating on Chesapeake Bay, was found yesterday about 11 miles northeast of where his empty boat was discovered.

The body, still clad in a shirt bearing the name of his sailboat and without a life jacket, was drifting one mile southwest of Poplar Island when it was spotted by a boater not connected to the nine-day police search. Police said they have not changed their position that Merrill's death was not a result of foul play and are awaiting autopsy results. Police would not say yesterday whether the body showed any signs of trauma.

"The body was floating enough so that it was visible to this boater," said Col. Mark S. Chaney, superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources Police, who led the search. The body was spotted nine miles south of the search area, which was a swath of bay near a route Merrill often sailed, from the Severn River to Kent Island. The recovery site was 11 miles northeast of Plum Point, where two jet-skiers found Merrill's boat on the evening of his disappearance.

Summoned by the boater, police transported the body to Tilghman Island, where an official from the state medical examiner's office made a preliminary identification.

Merrill, 72, whose Annapolis-based publishing holdings included Washingtonian magazine and the Capital newspaper, was assistant secretary general to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the early 1990s and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States from 2002 until last year. Throughout his working life, he took time away from his business interests to pursue diplomatic and intelligence assignments for the government. He served six administrations, mostly in the State and Defense departments.

Tom Marquardt, the executive editor of the Capital and acting as the Merrill family spokesman, said the family is "grieving all over again."

"It's been a very difficult time for them," he said. "They're gathering around each other and getting through this ordeal."

Merrill was alone at the helm of his 41-foot sailboat, Merrilly, when he left his home on the Severn River near Annapolis for a Saturday afternoon cruise. His family believed he was following a favorite route across the bay from the Severn to Kent Island, an 18-mile round trip. Later that evening, the unmanned boat was found near Plum Point in Calvert County, about 20 miles south of that area. A search conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Coast Guard immediately after Merrill's disappearance failed to find any sign of him, and he was presumed dead a week ago.

Since then, the Natural Resources-led effort to find and recover his body had involved helicopters and a half-dozen boats, including one equipped with sonar technology designed to locate a body underwater. Local volunteers also aided in the surface search. At the time of the recovery, a half-dozen Natural Resources boats were looking for Merrill's body. The sonar scan ended Saturday on the belief that the body, which initially would sink, likely had surfaced.

Chaney said the location of the body was consistent with wind and current patterns. "Once the body rises, it's up to Mother Nature to determine where it goes," he said.

A fiery, controversial man known for his tirades against employees and politicians who irked him, Merrill was also a philanthropist who contributed tens of millions of dollars to his favorite causes, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the University of Maryland College of Journalism and Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

Bill Regardie, whose now-defunct business magazine named Merrill one of the region's 100 richest people in 1988, said he found no particular comfort in the recovery of his colleague's body. "I wish I had lived my life with as much intensity as Phil did. That's one thing I always admired about him," he said.

A memorial service for Merrill is scheduled for Thursday in Washington. Family and close friends are invited.

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