Mystery surrounds missing boat owner

Thursday , July 19, 2012 - 1:34 PM

Jessica Lipscomb

NAPLES, Fla. — Some time in June, someone sailed Wayne Ball’s 34-foot catamaran to the Naples City Dock and tied it up. Since then, no one has come back for the $50,000 Latitudes and no one has seen its 57-year-old owner.

After about a week, Harbor Master Roger Jacobsen and Naples police began looking for Ball. Investigators hit dead end after dead end: disconnected phone numbers, false addresses, overflowing mailboxes.

Six weeks later, they still don’t know where he is.

"Join the club," said James Ewing, who hasn’t heard from his stepson in three or four years.

"I have been, oh my gosh, racking my brains trying to get in touch with him," said his ex-wife Pam Ball, who hasn’t seen him in eight years and keeps a binder full of possible whereabouts.

"I’m about to file a missing persons report," said his sister, Carol, who last talked with him in early May.

The boat was docked sometime overnight on June 6 or 7. Since then, Ball has made it difficult for authorities to find him, as most of his addresses in Florida and Georgia are post office boxes. It’s unclear if he wants it that way.

Latitudes was registered and had no liens, Jacobsen said. There are no signs of a disturbance onboard. A flat-screen TV still hangs on the wall. The kitchen area is tidy. The bed had been made.

"If you’re going to abandon it," Jacobsen said, "are you going to make the bed and all that stuff?"

There are theories that maybe Ball wanted to disappear.

"But you know, why not sell the boat first?" Jacobsen said.

Acquaintances have other concerns.

"Personally, I think he got drunk and fell in the water," said Gene Luciano, who knew Ball from a local restaurant. "He’s a pretty good drinker."

Luciano said neither he nor other acquaintances had seen Ball in two or three months. "It just doesn’t seem right," he said.

Court records show Ball had a few brushes with the law, mostly for DUI, grand theft and worthless checks.

Pam Ball, who lives in Pensacola, said her ex-husband tended to hide his money in corporations, like the handful of cabinetry companies he owns. Although he did "beautiful cabinet work," his poor business sense strained their marriage until they divorced in January 2004, she said.

Jacobsen, the city’s harbor master, said Wayne Ball hasn’t done anything wrong as far as officials are concerned. Still, no one has ever left a boat on the dock for longer than overnight. "We don’t have a crime, you know," Jacobsen said. "We have an unknown."

(Contact Jessica Lipscomb of the Naples (Fla.) Daily News at JELipscomb@naplesnews.com.)

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