A Hollywood star, a fishing boat, money troubles, a zesty private investigator and an alleged escape to Mexico… it sounds like the farfetched plot of some bad 90s action movie, but it’s a true bloody story. And on top of that, it happened to Australian royalty, actress Olivia Newton-John, whose partner Patrick McDermott vanished in mysterious circumstances in June 2005.
We take a deep dive into the case in Season 2, Episode 1 of PEDESTRIAN.TV‘s unsolved mysteries podcast, All Aussie Mystery Hour. Even though McDermott was a) American and b) disappeared in America, the Newton-John factor means it’s a case that us Aussies have been fascinated by ever since it happened.
The Aussie legend and the Korean-born, US-raised cameraman had met on the set of a commercial in 1996 and had an on-off relationship ever since. Newton-John once called McDermott “the most romantic person I’ve ever met”, but the couple remained pretty private, only stepping out for a handful of public appearances in the nine years that they were together.
On June 30 2005, McDermott, a keen sport fisherman, boarded fishing boat the Freedom which made a 90km journey from the Los Angeles port area of San Pedro to the island of San Clemente, returning the next day. The fishing trip passed with no incident, but 10 days later McDermott’s ex-wife, actress Yvette Nipar (they’d split in 1993), called the marina trying to track down McDermott.
He hadn’t shown up for his visitation with their 13-year-old son, Chance — and when she asked around, no one had actually seen McDermott since he’d left for the fishing trip. His tackle box, a bag with his wallet and keys inside were still at the Freedom‘s office, and his car was still parked at the marina. Patrick McDermott was officially reported as a missing person.
What seemed like a tragic accidental drowning soon became much murkier. Investigators found several facts that didn’t add up: why had no one on a small fishing boat seen McDermott go overboard? Why had his food bill been paid in the last hour of the trip? And why had several fellow fisherman sworn that they’d seen him disembark at San Pedro?
Once the celebrity connection became evident (though it transpired Newton-John and McDermott were not dating when he disappeared), teamed with the fact that McDermott was in serious financial trouble, the story became Big News. US TV show EXTRA hired Hollywood PI John J. Nazarian, who tracked alleged sightings of McDermott down to Mexico, where witnesses claimed they saw him with a German woman. Australian tabloids have kept the case in the public eye, but the question remains — if McDermott is indeed alive, why hasn’t anyone been able to actually prove it?