Mother wants son to be declared dead

June 30, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writer

The mother of a Baltimore man who disappeared while on a cruise on the Queen Elizabeth 2 seven months ago is seeking to have him declared dead, saying she needs to accept that he probably will never come home.

William Mark Bernhardt vanished Nov. 12 from the luxury liner while it was in the open ocean off the coast of Virginia. He and his mother, Mary B. Bernhardt, had taken a cruise to the Caribbean to celebrate his 41st birthday, which would have been a month later.

The U.S. Coast Guard searched an area 206 miles long and 10 miles wide from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay before suspending the search.

The petition filed in Baltimore Circuit Court details several unsuccessful attempts to locate Mr. Bernhardt since then, including posters with his picture that were given to churches, a stowaway search of the liner when it docked in New York City and a months-long Maryland Port Administration police investigation.

Court papers say Ms. Bernhardt told police her son suffered from schizophrenia, and had been living at a halfway house on Druid Park Drive before he left on the trip. A priest who knew him said he became depressed easily and would talk of committing suicide, though Mr. Bernhardt had seemed excited about going on the cruise.

"I've called a psychic, and she told me she could see him in the water, in the churning water in the back of the ship," Ms. Bernhardt said this week. "He was waving to the ship. He had a very surprised look on his face."

Ms. Bernhardt reported her son missing after he did not show up for a Mass on the QE2, where he was supposed to carry the collection plate.

Ms. Bernhardt's lawyer, Richard K. Abraham, said that she needed proof of her son's death to collect the benefits of two insurance policies on him, a $5,000 life insurance policy he has had for years and a $25,000 accidental death travel policy taken out before the cruise.

"I am convinced my son is dead," Ms. Bernhardt said in an affidavit to the court.

Records indicate the police investigation was closed in April. "There is no indication the disappearance of the victim William Mark Bernhardt was an act of criminal intent," a report concluded.

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