Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Real Names: Billy Joe Neesmith, Keith Wilkes, and Franklin Brantley
Nicknames: None known
Location: Richmond Hill, Georgia
Date: April 12/13, 1990


Occupation: Commercial Fishermen
Date of Birth: Unrevealed
Height: Unrevealed
Weight: Unrevealed
Marital Status: Unrevealed
Characteristics: Caucasian males


Details: On April 12, 1990, four commercial fishermen prepared to embark on a seven-day expedition in the Atlantic Ocean. The captain was twenty-three-year-old Billy Joe Neesmith. His crew included his thirty-two-year-old brother, Nathan, his eighteen-year-old nephew, Keith Wilkes, and their twenty-three-year-old friend, Franklin Brantley. In the late afternoon, they set off from Richland Hill, Georgia, in the Casie Nicole, a snapper boat owned by Billy Joe's employer. It had recently been returned to service after five weeks in dry dock for maintenance. They planned to go to Tiger's Ledge, an unchartered fishing reef about ninety miles offshore.
Sometime between 3:30 and 4am the next morning, Nathan got up to operate the boat. He noticed that it was acting sluggish and riding deep; it seemed to want to go through the waves instead of just riding over them. It also seemed to not want to stay on course. Believing something was wrong, he went and woke up Billy Joe. They checked the engine and found that there was about a foot of water surrounding it. They tried to start the pumps in order to get the water pumped out. However, they would not start.
Billy Joe went to wake up Keith and Franklin, who were asleep in the bow of the boat. When they turned on the light, they noticed that there was about a foot of water next to their bunks. They got in a line and started passing a bucket, trying to get the water out of the boat. They also took out the two-man life raft and called out "Mayday" on their radio. However, no one responded. Finally, the engine stalled; all power on the boat was lost. As a result, the radio was useless. The four men decided to abandon ship.
Unfortunately, the life raft was not well taken care of; it had a quarter-sized hole in the top side. They were not sure if the boat's anchor had torn a hole in it, or if it was just "rotten" from fungus and the hole just eventually wore in it. By sunrise, it was sinking fast. Then, salvation came floating by – the hatch cover from the boat. The men tethered the raft to it and clambered aboard. It was then that Nathan spotted the hull of the boat in the distance. It appeared to be about three miles away.
Nathan decided to swim to the boat to see if he could somehow get some help. As he swam away, the other men hollered for him to come back because they did not want to be split up. He swam from around 9am to just before dark when he got to the stern of the boat. By that point, he was very weak from swimming. As darkness fell, he lost sight of the other men. He spent a long, harrowing night clinging to the hull of the boat.
The next morning, a freighter passed within three miles of Nathan. He watched as it made between four and five stops. Each time it made a stop or circle, he saw a fog of smoke boil out of it. The stops were made near the location where the other men were last seen. He figured that it had stopped to pick them up. It continued its odd maneuvers for nearly three hours, then disappeared.
For two-and-a-half days, Nathan drifted and prayed that the boat would stay afloat. All seemed lost, until a large wood and Styrofoam bait box ripped loose from the deck and popped to the surface. By that point, he was starving and very weak. He swam over to it and, fortunately, its front was out. He was able to climb inside and lay in it as it floated on the ocean surface. By that point, the sun was out, and it became very hot. As time passed, he got sunburned and his skin turned bright red. He frequently heard voices calling out his name, but when he would look out, no one was there. He felt that he was close to death. However, he refused to give up, knowing that he had a wife and two children at home. He prayed to God and asked to be saved so that he could go home to them.
At 10am on April 15, 1990, Nathan was finally rescued, twenty miles off the coast of Georgia. He had been adrift without food or water for four days. The boat was found later that day, along with a life vest and sleeping bag. Sadly, the other men were never found. A large-scale search mounted by the Coast Guard yielded no trace of the life raft or the hatch cover, but Nathan and his family never gave up hope that the other men might somehow have survived. It seemed a futile hope until a strange telephone call was made to the home of Nathan and Billy Joe's sister, Oneda.
The call came in on October 5, 1990, six months after the boat sank. Oneda's mother-in-law answered the phone. The caller, a man, spoke in Spanish and seemed unable to understand English. The only things that he said in English were their name and phone number, which he repeated several times. He then hung up. That same day, an unusual call also came into the home of Doug Tyson, the boat's owner. Once again, the caller was a man. The only English words he said were the Tysons' name and phone number.
Six weeks later, the Tysons went to visit the Neesmiths. During the visit, the Neesmiths told them about their call. The two families then realized that their calls had occurred on the same day. Over the next year, five more calls came in: three to Oneda and two to the Tysons. Finally, on March 6, 1991, the caller spoke a single sentence in English, "I'm bringing them home." After only a moment, the connection was broken. There have been no calls since.
The Neesmiths and Tysons are convinced that the three lost men were taken aboard the passing freighter and perhaps transported to a foreign country against their will. Oneda believes that the caller became friends with one of them and is putting themselves at risk to let their families know that they are still alive. Doug points out that there is no explanation for where the debris from the boat went. That, along with Nathan's sighting of the freighter and the phone calls, gives him hope that they are alive. Nathan believes that they are. He is certain that they had a lot better chance of surviving than he did. The Coast Guard search was the largest ever conducted in the area of the Atlantic Ocean where they disappeared. Officially, they are presumed dead. Unofficially, there seems reasonable hope that they may still be alive.
Suspects: The freighter that may have picked up the three lost men could potentially have been involved in illegal maritime activity, or it may have flown the flag of a country with an anti-American policy. The Spanish words of the mysterious caller suggest they may have been taken to Cuba. The end of the calls may suggest that he was discovered and neutralized, either by drug smugglers or his superior officers.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the January 15, 1992 episode.
  • It was submitted to the show by Nathan.
  • It was also featured on The Trail Went Cold and Thinking Sideways podcasts.

Results: Unsolved