Merrill search cost state $76,000

Publisher's case handled no differently from other water recovery efforts, official says


The Maryland Natural Resources Police spent $76,000 on employee pay, overtime and fuel costs during its nine-day search for the body of Annapolis-area publisher Philip Merrill, according to documents released yesterday.

The amount includes the costs for more than 6,200 gallons of fuel and 1,632 hours of employee time spent searching for Merrill's body, according to the documents. The total does not include costs incurred by other agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard and the Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City Fire Departments.

"We didn't treat this case any differently, with the exception of the press conferences, than any other search-and-rescue effort," said Col. Mark S. Chaney, the head of the Natural Resources Police. "We're doing a recovery. We're trying to provide closure for a family."

Sgt. Ken Turner, a spokesman for the police, said a one-day search for two people who went overboard in the Potomac River in mid-June cost the department $8,000. The Merrill search cost $8,444 a day, according to the Natural Resources Police figures.

"I don't want to draw any conclusions on that," Turner said. "I'll let the numbers speak for themselves."

Costs for the Merrill search included 48 man-hours doing aerial searches, $750 for boat storage, and $500 for a new boat transmission.

Merrill, 72, a former diplomat whose company published Annapolis-based Capital newspaper and Washingtonian magazine, disappeared from his 41-foot boat, Merrilly, during a solo sailing trip June 10. The discovery of his unmanned boat launched an intensive rescue mission that two days later became a body-recovery effort led by the Natural Resources Police with support from multiple agencies.

The police yesterday also released their final criminal investigations unit report on the incident, which revealed that Merrill purchased a shotgun June 3 - a week before he killed himself and the day before he hosted an annual party that was attended by hundreds of friends, including Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

The shotgun was purchased at Angler's Sporting Goods in Annapolis, the report said. Merrill had frequented the store for roughly 25 years and often bought fishing gear there, according to the report. Merrill told the owner of the store he wanted to buy a gun "for home protection," according to the report.

The owner of the store, Charles Ebersberger, was not available for comment yesterday. He previously declined to comment.

At the store, Merrill said he did not know how to use the gun, so the staff showed him how to load and shoot it using dummy rounds, the report said.

Merrill's family were "very upset, but not completely surprised," when police shared their suspicions that Merrill committed suicide, according to the report. Family members told police that Merrill, who had undergone open-heart surgery the previous year, "was often depressed and at times seemed catatonic as he stared out the windows of his house," the report said.

However, the day he bought the gun, Merrill's family said: "He seemed happier and was excited about his new granddaughter," according to the report.

The family did not know that the gun had been purchased until Natural Resources Police told them June 12, the report said.

Eleanor Merrill, his wife, told investigators that during the week of June 4, the family's gardener had seen Merrill take a package to the sailboat, and had offered to help him with the package. Merrill "dismissed him gruffly, which was very out of character for Merrill," according to the report.

His wife also told investigators that Merrill did not usually sail alone.

When Merrill's boat was found in shallow waters near Plum Point off Calvert County, investigators noticed "streaks of blood on the transom of the vessel" and "what appeared to be a blood splatter on the flag and flagpole that were on the stern of the vessel." Investigators also found "what appeared to be human tissue matter" on the stern of the boat, behind the cockpit, the report said.

Merrill's body was found June 19 by a couple from Ontario, Canada, sailing near Poplar Island, along the Eastern Shore. The couple saw the body floating in the water, marked the location with a GPS navigational system and then called the police.

The autopsy, also released yesterday, revealed that Merrill was wearing a blue sweater, a red polo shirt, shoes, and pants with a belt that had nautical flags on it. A rope had been wrapped seven times around his left ankle and a 13-pound anchor was attached to the rope, according to the report.

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