On September 8, 1934, the luxury liner, S.S. Morro Castle, just hours from the port of New York, caught fire. Of the 566 passengers, officers, and crew aboard, 134 perished in the disaster. Inaccurate media coverage and missteps by investigative agencies abounded, swinging wildly from speculation that it was an unfortunate accident to a deadly plot by Communists. In Shipwreck: The Strange Fate of the Morro Castle by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, an exhaustive examination of surviving documents and media coverage, as well as interviews with some of the survivors and their families, the reader is treated to an alternative answer. The S.S. Morro Castle disaster was the work of one man, a deliberate and meticulously executed plot by chief radio officer, George White Rogers.
Sounding more like a thriller than nonfiction, this book pieces together the final days of Morro Castle in a compelling narrative that, while it probably couldn’t stand up in a court of law, leaves no doubt that this deadly disaster wasn’t part of some Machiavellian Communist plot, but was the work of one deranged psychotic who had little regard for human life, and who was striving for recognition and attention. At the same time, it shows how individuals and organizations, even government agencies, can be misled in an atmosphere of fear and conspiracy theories. With the attention today being given to ‘fake’ news, it’s instructive to see that this isn’t a new phenomenon, but something that has been with us for a long time, and how people with over-large egos and sociopathic tendencies can manipulate it to the disadvantage of society.
A fine bit of investigative reporting to which I give four stars.